Marketing, heal thyself

In honour of Data Privacy Day 2020, i’ve decided to make an admission. Yes, i’m afraid I have now been working in what amounts to direct marketing for 34 years. Does that qualify me for membership at Direct Marketers Anonymous? That is what DMA stands for isn’t it?

Actually, I see the Direct Marketing Association has rebranded to The Data and Marketing Association. A good move I suggest, and perhaps an opportunity to reflect and move in a new direction. Certainly from where I stand, the marketing profession needs to change, and fast. Here are some obvious problems that need to be rectified:

  1. Data volumes: Those statements about ‘more data created in the last XXX than all the previous YYYs’ used to quite satisfying; think of all that big data analytics… Then, reality set in; data quality is typically a major barrier to progress and thus a significant proportion of the huge data-sets being gathered sit there soaking up resources to no great effect. Time to stop gathering that which has costs that exceed the value in it.
  2. Cookies and surveillance: The modern day version of coupons and loyalty cards, but much more invasive and dangerous. The marketing industry has fallen hook, line and sinker for the adtech promise; which so far as I can see fails to deliver for anyone other than the adtech providers themselves. Enough, switch them off.
  3. Lack of Respect for People’s Time: Back in the day when it cost money to send things, direct marketing used to be a relative rarity. These days when there is very little incremental cost in sending an email, there is a tendency to just keep sending more and more frequently. I used to laugh at those ’12 days of x’mas’ email campaigns, until everyone started doing them, and then they extended beyond 12 days. So now the whole period between Thanksgiving and January Sales is one huge marketing blitzkreig. Enough, just because you can send something, don’t; be more respectful of people’s time.
  4. Failure to recognise the full customer experience: Building on the above, if 1 brand extends their 12 days of X’mas campaign from 12 to 30 days that’s annoying. But when the 20-30 brands an individual will easily be engaged with the volumes go up ridiculously. Brands need to recognise that they are only a small part of their customer’s lives; not the centre of it.

In the grand scheme of things, and as I see it, response rates in B2C through that whole 30 year period have been pretty stagnant. On average, I expect 1% response to a direct marketing campaign, and 1% of that 1% converting. Given the HUGE change in data availability, analytical tools and technologies that have emerged over that period, that stagnancy is quite shocking. By implication, 99% of our messaging is going to people who find it not relevant to them at that point in time.

I think it is time to change the model. Time to change from push marketing to pull marketing. Rather than spend yet more money on adtech, invest in what i’ll call ‘CustomerTech’; that is to say, tools and capabilities built on the side of the customer. Give customer’s the ability to signal when they are in the market for something, without that then subjecting them to a flood of marcoms and their data being sold and shared out the back door. I would contend that marcoms volumes would go right down, perceptions and response rates go right up.

Thankfully there are now significant numbers of people working to make CustomerTech a reality. Here’s hoping we see that come to life before next years Privacy Day.