Evolution, Revolution: Attention All Marketers – Change Is Gonna Come (and ROI Will Follow)

Note from Jim: Originally written for All About ROI, the newly branded and revamped Catalog Success Magazine.

As we near the end of the first decade of the new century (time flies right?), the direct marketing business is caught in a war that’s being played out on many fronts.

Let me put this in perspective for you: If you study history, you’ll see that at the turn of every new century comes great change. However, great change is often preceded by great turmoil. Whether it was the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century or the buildup to World War I and the Great Depression in the early 20th century, change, as they say, is gonna come.

The goal of my newly branded column — in this newly branded publication — is to help you drive as much high-quality return on investment (ROI) as possible. I’ll examine ways to do this in the ROI channels and mantra (retail/catalog, online integration) from our magazine’s tagline. I’ll also talk change on a continual basis so you can adapt and thrive.

The point is, we face several threats, many of which are actually opportunities in disguise. And the opportunities are considerable:

Social Media: You must adopt social media as a tool for engaging your customers and prospects alike, both from a marketing and customer service perspective. New customers are just, if not more, as likely to seek out information from peer groups as they are from product research. This column will discuss strategies for blogging, message boards, video, Web site product reviews, Twitter, Facebook, and more going forward.

Direct Mail (part 1) — Push Me, Pull You: The chatter I hear every day is that direct mail is dead. Mostly, this is perpetuated by pure-play Internet folks who believe marketing is all about “pull” rather than “push.” I recall in the not too distant past when direct marketers were looked upon by brand marketers as the redheaded stepchildren of the marketing community. Of course, the Internet leveled this playing field, and now all marketers need to be direct marketers to survive. Curiously, the next generation of marketers — weaned on the Internet — see us much the same way.

Funny how things turn. For without the principles of direct marketing, these same Internet marketers would’ve gone the way of the dinosaurs (oops, I meant sock puppets). For a direct marketer to drive consistent ROI, all marketing channels must work together. I’m a big fan of “why can’t we all just get along,” and will go to considerable lengths in this column to create synergy in all channels and with all people.

Direct Mail (part 2) — Let’s Get Personal: Also part of the chatter I hear is that the death of direct mail has to do with the process itself. Technology exists today to use personalization to increase engagement and, in turn, response rates and ROI. But is it being used? Sadly, many companies aren’t adopting technology. I’ll delve further into personalization, segmentation, PURLS (personalized URLs) and landing pages in this column.

Direct Mail (part 3) — Revenge of the Tree Huggers: More and more the direct mail industry is being attacked by environmentalists who believe direct mail destroys trees and the planet. Activists are trying to get “do-not-mail” bills passed on a daily basis. Most of these people have no clue about the actual impact of direct mail on the environment (or lack thereof as the case may be) and are just jumping on the bandwagon because it seems like the right thing to do (or they hate junk mail). Our goal as direct marketers, both offline and online, is to mail to relevant customers and prospects. I’ll address how to mail smarter in this column, and you can bet that I’ll loudly voice my opinion against anyone who says the wrong thing about our industry.

And Then There’s the Economy: People are sitting on the sidelines and not buying. Spending habits, especially around credit purchases, are changing rapidly. I’ll discuss how this affects your business and how to market smarter in troubled economic times. Here’s a hint: People are still buying! Find them, and coddle them. Hint No. 2: Many companies have made fortunes in bad times. You can, too!

And Lastly, Mobile: Are you prepared for the next channel to open and open big? Over the next few years, mobile will need to be harnessed if you plan on surviving.

14 thoughts on “Evolution, Revolution: Attention All Marketers – Change Is Gonna Come (and ROI Will Follow)

  1. Kevin Hillstrom says:

    I think your discussion of how the perception of direct marketers changed over time is interesting and largely accurate. Brand marketers and web marketers evolved differently than direct marketers. All three disciplines, coupled with all these other micro-channels, are needed … very much in line with what you typically advocate.

  2. jasonpinto says:

    Great column…
    We strive to use all different channels to market our business. We have invested and received great success through social media this year.

    But, we are currently in the middle of a direct mail with Personalized URLs campaign — it is by far our most successful marketing effort of the year so far.

    Looking forward to more articles from you.


  3. Kristen says:

    Hi Jim,

    Great column. Thanks – I’m looking forward to seeing you delve deeper into these topics.

    Completely agree that now is the time to coddle and reward people who are buying. The AP just published an interesting article about brands starting to listen to groups of organized consumers who demand better deals and coupons: http://bit.ly/g8i0g

    Also – who do you count on as a good source for unbiased and smart information on the effects of direct mail on the environment?

    All best,

  4. Ernie Schell says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your observations, and the overall sentiment, but I still see, alas, huge cultural differences and gaping chasms in perspectives between the various verticals. This translates into different priorities and views of the world among retailers, direct marketers/merchants, and eCommerce companies. Give them each $1 million and they would spend it very differently. So we have a long way to go. If your efforts can help bridge the gaps, then I’m all for it!!!

  5. Tracey Holzapfel says:

    I cannot tell you how many job interviews I’ve been on, where I have catalog/multi-channel ecommerce experience, and the strictly web people I’m talking to do not think catalog experience is relevant.
    Not sure the internet would be what it is today without the push from direct marketing and catalogs.

    Nice article!

  6. jon fast says:

    Great points about 1) companies not using personalization technology that is available to them, and 2) that all marketing channels work together in a campaign. Overall, this is an excellent post and I look forward to reading your blog.

    But your comments about environmental impact of “junk mail” are ill-informed. Direct mail has a huge environmental impact and to deny that reinforces negative stereotypes the direct marketing industry.

    If should be incumbent upon companies to find greener methods to produce direct mail, and they don’t want to take that responsibility, the government should step in and mandate standards, since it is the government’s job to manage our natural resources and moderate usage of harmful materials. Those natural resources and harmful materials include:
    – trees
    – water for paper production
    – use of heavy metals in inks
    – petroleum from plastics in direct mail and in…
    – gasoline used in moving direct mail and collecting recycling

    See: http://www.stopjunkmailkit.com/statistics/
    See: http://www.41pounds.org/impact/

    • Jim Gilbert says:

      Jon, thanks for your comments. I greatly appreciate anything positive or negative on any of my articles.

      I agree that we need to find greener ways to produce direct mail and lessen it’s impact on the economy. I worked for a catalog company that actually pioneered green clothing a number of years ago and we did do much of that. Recycled paper, soy based inks, etc. So I take the environment seriously.


      The info I got on mail’s environmental impact is from the DMA (The Direct Marketing Association, the trade organization for direct marketers, for those not in the know.)

      Here is a statement you may not be aware about from the DMA:

      “Facts About Direct Mail:

      Some people come to the DMAchoice mail preference service planning on completely stopping all the direct mail they receive, because they think that doing so will help save paper and the environment. But before you do this, here are some numbers you may find interesting.

      Direct mail is a green way to shop. If Americans replaced two trips to the mall each year with shopping by catalog, we’d reduce our number of miles driven by 3.3 billion—a 3 billion pound reduction in carbon dioxide and a savings of $650 million on gas alone.

      Mail represents only 2.4% of America’s municipal waste stream.

      The production of household advertising mail consumes only 0.19% of the energy used in the United States.

      Mail is made from a renewable resource. The vast majority of paper produced in America today comes from trees grown for that specific purpose. The forest industry ensures that the number of trees each year is increasing, so trees are not a depleting resource. In fact, forest land in the United States has increased by 5.3 million acres in the past three decades.

      Direct mail is critical to the economic well-being of communities, businesses and charities throughout the United States. Last year it represented more than $686 billion in sales, supporting jobs at more than 300,000 small businesses across the country.”

      Specifically this is from their DMAChoice website, a website that allows people to opt out of receiving mail and catalogs. https://www.dmachoice.org/ They are non profit.

      The two reference you provided are both paid services. Of the two sets of sources, if I had to determine who I should believe, I would have to go with The DMA.

      If you find any non-commercial sources to back your argument, please feel free to cite them here.


  7. jon fast says:


    Thanks for your response. While 41pounds does offer a service for purchase, it is also a non-profit organization. The DMA Choice may be non-profit, but it is part of the DMA, which is, in their words, a “global trade association of business and nonprofit organizations using and supporting multichannel direct marketing tools and techniques.”

    I’m certainly not going to cast aspersions on the DMA, but they have an agenda just as any environmental non-profit. So if we were to toss out the scientific findings of one organization, we should do so for both. Instead, perhaps we should trust the findings of both organizations.

    However, I would dispute the claim that direct mail is a green way to shop. Certainly, shopping malls without easy access to public transit is a huge source of greenhouse gas production. But much of direct mail, and I’m sure you can supply numbers on this better than me, is for items you don’t drive to shop for in the first place: credit card and banking offers, offers from cable, phone and internet companies and insurance companies.

    Additionally, coupon packs and circulars are often for products and services which require driving on the part of the company (food delivery and carpet cleaning) or driving for the customer (supermarkets, drugstores, superstores).

    It is also disingenuous to believe the forest industry when they say trees are renewable. It is well documented that old growth forests provide significantly more biodiversity and a more complete habitat than farmed forests, which are usually single-tree. Plus, farmed forests also chemical fertilizer and pesticides.

    But outside of the environmental discussion, the issue of jobs is important to consider. Our economy is changing as the market, and the concerns of our society, change. An example of this is finding new purposes for auto manufacturing plants and job training for autoworkers.

    Thanks for responding and I look forward to reading future posts.

    • Jim Gilbert says:

      The notion of exchanging ideas is exactly how I envisioned this blog. Thanks to Jon for keeping the exchange going.

      It seems that the environmental impact of direct mail produces many discussions with people being extremely vocal.

      This is not the first time this issue has come up on my blog. Check out this discussion from a few months ago…. https://gilbertdirectmarketing.wordpress.com/2009/02/25/evidently-my-rant-about-the-usps-and-their-5-day-work-week-hit-a-nerve/

      Let me also add, for those who don’t have time to read the linked article, some points on how you can reduce the inbound direct mail you receive…

      1. Recycle any direct mail you’re not interested in.

      2. Contact catalog companies who send you their catalogs and ask to be removed from their future mailings.

      3. DON’T buy anything from a catalog, otherwise (and here is the relevancy issue) you will be tagged as a “mail order buyer” and will receive other catalogs of products which have an affinity to your last mail order purchase. In fact, don’t buy anything mail order, or respond online to any offer!

      4. Opt out of receiving business mail using Catalog Choice: http://www.catalogchoice.org/.

      5. Use the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service to manage or stop direct mail offers:http://www.dmachoice.org/.

      The truth is, as direct marketers we look to only be relevant – in other words to mail to people who want to receive our offers.

      I encourage all people who do not want to receive mail, to use catalog choice or dmachoice.

      I also encourage ALL mailers to use the files from these same organizations to as suppression tools, to make sure you don’t mail to people who do not want your offer.

      But, this is a slippery slope. What if someone on Catalog Choice, actually shops via XYZ catalog and enjoy a long standing relationship? Mailers must be careful how they use these suppression files. Otherwise customers who want mail from XYX will not get their mail. It can cut both ways don’t you think?

      Join in the discussion, post a comment.


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