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Thanks, No Thanks

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Let's face it. Direct marketing is a thankless job.

Despite all the talent, the skill and the sweat equity you invest, consumers are still going to resent your efforts. Most people get up and go to the kitchen (or worse) when your commercials interrupt their favorite TV show. Most people would rather not talk to telemarketers. Most people don't buy magazines for the ads. And no one is standing anxiously by their mailbox — the one on their front lawn or the one on their PC desktop — hoping to receive even the most targeted direct marketing message.

So why bother?

Because — whether your customers understand the process or not — if you establish and maintain an integrated media conversation with them, your sales, brand loyalty and customer retention will improve.

Consumers don't recognize all the mechanics of a successful marketing conversation. But, they most certainly do notice when the conversations they have with companies break down. Here are just a handful of common disconnects. If you haven't experienced them as a marketer, you will surely be familiar with them as a consumer yourself.

Multiple personalities

You receive an offer in the mail that sounds pretty good. You're tempted. But, being a typical consumer, you're wary of direct marketing offers from companies you've never heard of. So, the mail ends up in the trash. The thing is ... you actually do know the company. They advertise regularly on your favorite TV show. They have billboards on the road you drive to work each day. In fact, you've bought from them in the past. So what happened?

The company trying to sell to you has different marketing managers charged with utilization of each medium. Each of these managers uses different agencies to develop and execute their campaigns. Each of these agencies has a separate creative team that's doing great work for their client. But no one is looking at the big picture.

The result is a fragmented conversation ... and a lot of missed opportunity.

Nobody's listening

You call the 800-number of a company you already do business with. You have a billing or customer service issue you need to discuss with someone. While you're on hold, a recorded message asks you to key in your 12-digit account number so that they may service your request more quickly. You do. After a few minutes wait, a service representative gets on the line.

What's the first question he or she asks? "What's your account number?"

Do you protest that you've already given it to them? Suggest they invest in telephony systems that can actually talk to each other? Or, do you sigh, shrug and repeat the number to the rep. Chances are, it isn't worth your time to complain. But, your satisfaction with that company just decreased.

Strangers are treated better than loyal customers

You've subscribed to a publication for years. When it's time to renew, you receive an offer for 25% off the cover price. You would appreciate this if it weren't for one thing. BRCs that have been blown into the magazine itself offer 50% off. But, the sweeter offer is only available to new customers.

The reward for your loyalty to the publication? A higher price.

This is an example of the very common practice of investing heavily in attaining new customers — while letting current customers lapse. How would you feel if you were engaged in a conversation and the other person abruptly stopped listening and went to talk to someone else? Marketers do this all the time.

Hard work but worth it

Holding up your end of a marketing conversation is hard work. By its very nature, a conversation with your customer must be dynamic — as his or her interests and needs evolve, the conversation must evolve as well. This makes it difficult to rest on your laurels — or to repeat programs and campaigns because they've served you well in the past. In a marketing conversation, each prospect or customer is treated as an individual with unique communication requirements.

And, to make your job even more difficult, a commitment to leveraging the principles of ongoing customer conversation has to be shared by multiple stakeholders in your company.

In other words, the focus on the customer can't start with marketing communications. It has to be a more holistic attitudinal shift. And it has to start with your product or service.

Are you selling something you make? Or something the customer needs?

Think about it.

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