Why Direct Marketing Is Also An Experience

Since the dawn of the World Wide Web, companies began to think that CRM occurs only online and is best managed there. Too many companies do just that, but how well one can service customers -- which means meeting their initial goals, anticipating their desires at the right time, or mending situations in a way that makes them appreciate a brand -- requires actions that take place in both worlds.

A recent trip to Starbucks brought everything to light. I got a receipt that encouraged me to buy a tall Skinny latte the next time because they're only 80 calories -- 10 grams of protein and 35% of my daily calcium requirement. Thank you, Starbucks, for your healthy suggestion. How about giving me some options that don't point to my perceived body-mass index? Maybe the next time I visit I could opt for a Skinny latte or a full-blown, whole-milk mocha at 10% off? Now that makes me feel much better about you (and me).

Aside from a momentary attack of vanity, this Starbucks moment got me to thinking about point of-sale systems, databases and every other digitized device and how they are converging to enable the direct marketing of everything. But let's not lose sight of what we mean by direct marketing and all the intangible emotional aspects thereof.

Direct marketing could be situational like my Starbucks example. It might be predictive like a recent prompt from my Honda dealer suggesting my car will need service "in a few weeks."

It will continue to be as personal as the Christmas card from my guys at the car park. (Thanks for the scratch-free service this year, guys, and don't forget I'll need the Honda Friday.)

Of course it could be a combination of all three -- situational, predictive and personal -- like the Amazon book recommendations I receive based on my previous purchases. Whatever the circumstances, it's time to take a different view of direct and CRM, and it might be time to rethink the marketing strategy process with this mind.

Brands today need to realize that their relationship with their customers is entirely based on the latter's experience of the brand. And customers today are experiencing your brand from more points than ever. From in-home and in-life to in-store and after, make sure every experience of your brand is designed to nurture the relationship you want with your customers.

Sure, we can talk about how profound the consequences will be when my browser behaves like cable TV, and I flick around as easily between "stations." IPTV becomes an opportunity to personalize every TV commercial? Hooray for situational, predictive and personal!

But it's much more nuanced. And here's where the experience comes in. Digital marketing is direct marketing, but both are ultimately experiential marketing as well.

Ultimately, I think customers respond to and embrace brands that make them feel safe. Like my Honda dealer and the check up. Like Starbucks and the recommendation of a Skinny latte (safe) or, anticipating a celebratory mood, a mocha (predictive).

Jobs are scarce, the Dow is bipolar, and customers are squeezed at every point. Brands that engulf them in a warm and fuzzy cloak of predictability and anticipation in the right situation are the ones that will gain market share but only if the experience with that brand makes the customer feel safe, as in, "I trust that brand. They will help me quickly. They care."

To be sure, many sales will be made when the cell phone number and its real-time location are matched to marketers who can tailor convenient offers. Want a free cup of coffee with your donut around the corner? Ten percent off all our shoes just three doors down till noon!

But if there is any glitch at all -- the coffee is burnt or warmed over, the shoes are ugly, the sales staff indifferent - 10% off won't matter if the product and experience of obtaining it is not something that provides a warm embrace.

There's no doubting the power of the paradigm shift when you think of everything as direct marketing as long as you don't lose sight of what it means to be in a relationship.

1 comment about "Why Direct Marketing Is Also An Experience ".
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  1. Rajesh Vinaykyaa from Visha Consultants, November 26, 2010 at 12:52 p.m.

    Thanks Paul for such a great article. But I would need one answer from you and curious enough to know. What do you think about Direct Marketing not working and in which market segment?

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