What Do They Know That You Don't?

This week I was listening to NPR's Fresh Air interview with Richard Clarke, who informed us that the Bush White House maintained a rigid set if ideas that were untarnished by facts. Facts were selectively used to justify an already held position, and facts that challenged that view were ignored, according to Mr. Clarke.

As marketers, we shouldn't find that hard to believe--since that way of thinking is what drives the advertising and marketing industry.

Advertisers still focus sponsorship dollars toward 18-to-34-year-olds, ignoring the fact that the Baby Boomers still think of themselves as the Woodstock Nation and control most of the cash. For proof, look at Norah Jones and the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, whose millions of record sales were achieved with no commercial media attention at all. Sales are driven by Baby Boomers, for the most part.

We've certainly seen that attitude when it comes to Internet advertising. The not-so-secret truth is that for both advertisers and their agencies, those who control the money and who were steeped in marketing principles of the 60's, 70's, and 80's don't use the Internet, don't get the Internet, and (while paying lip service to it) basically ignore the Internet to the detriment of their organizations. This is especially true of those organizations who boast an integrated approach to their marketing efforts. I used to believe that people would eventually wake up. I now believe that many organizations will just have to wait until those folks retire.

Things are even worse in the area of email marketing. For all of the public hand-wringing over spam, what's been ignored in the media, and--my guess, in conversations between agency and marketer--is that email is amazingly effective. A Wall Street Journal article is the only one I've read recently that gets to the heart of it. It profiles a typical family man who comes home from work and searches through his inbox in search of bargains. Nuggets of gold is the way he refers to what others call spam. And he is addicted, like those who watch the Home Shopping Network. He is disappointed when there are only a few offers in his inbox. By looking at the site traffic numbers driven strictly by email campaigns, he is not alone.

I thought it would be interesting to look at one of the top email marketers and see how they stand up to much higher-profile competitors in the same industry, in this case Credit Cards.

USA Platinum Card, marketed by Commonwealth Marketing Group. Now, a quick search on Google for Commonwealth Marketing Group will give you all the information you need to know on the company's business practices, but that is not the point. What is interesting here is that despite a quick search engine lookup dredging up more court records than a Martha Stewart trial, USA Platinum has more Web site traffic market share than Visa and MasterCard combined. (As usual, Web site traffic data is supplied by Hitwise).

In the month of February alone, USA Platinum Web site market share (defined as the percentage of all Web site traffic that goes to a particular Web site within a particular market sector), was 110% higher than MasterCard and 332% higher than Visa in the financial category.

Interestingly enough, the top traffic driver for both MasterCard and Visa came from email campaigns driven through Scholarships.com (obviously in an attempt to go after the college student market), but beyond that, traffic was driven by search engines and people going directly to the site. USA Platinum's traffic, on the other hand, was almost totally based on email traffic. Nobody was going to USA Platinum via Google (which is probably a good thing for USA Platinum), but they were enticed solely by their email offer.

And here is the point: rather than run from email and condemn it as the tool of spammers and con artists, study what is working for those with stronger stomachs. Find out why people will flood to an unknown brand instead of ones that have spent billions on brand identity because of the power of an email offer. Ask yourself: What do they know that you don't?