Direct Response Or Retail?

What level of direct response do you practice on your site?

Seems to me that everyone claims their site is heavily into the direct response thing.

But there’s a lot of so-called direct response happening out there that doesn’t even begin to take full advantage of the discipline.

Let’s look at three different levels of ‘response-generation.’

  • Level One – The Virtual Coupon Thing

Let’s say I have a kid’s bookstore online and at the beginning of the school year offer parents 10 percent off every book purchased before the end of September. Sounds like a reasonable and timely plan (even if it does murder my margins).

So I send out some ‘it’s-not-really-Spam’ to a few hundred thousand parents and make a few bucks on the response.

I save the addresses of people who make a purchase and make them my ‘A’ list for next year’s ‘it’s-not-really-spam’ emailing.

Am I practicing direct response here? I guess. In a pretty mild and very unsophisticated way. But this sounds more like the online equivalent of retail advertising to me.

Sling out the coupons and see what sticks. I think I could do better

  • Level Two – Tell Me What You Want

Between now and next year, I’m going to do a little preparation. Before I send out my big emailing, I’m going to get some input from the parents.

I’m going to put one of those ‘opt-in for the chance to win’ tables on my site.

The table comprises a list of ten different subject areas with a check box by each. “Just check the box against what your kid likes to read, click on the submit button, and I’ll enter your name to win one of the last remaining print copies of Encyclopaedia Britannica.”

I get back lots of replies, ship the winner his or her multiple volumes and prepare for a much improved and better targeted mailing next September.

Will I get a better response? Almost certainly. In fact, there are numerous Internet business models out there right now that depend on customer input as the only way to generate their lists. And many of them appear to be doing quite well. (That is to say, they’re still around.)

There’s something very elegant and rather beguiling about having your prospect do all the work for you.

“Hey, what’s better than actually having the prospect tell us what they want? They’re sure to buy!”

Not necessarily.

There’s this interesting and sometimes unfortunate gap between what we say we’ll do and what we actually do.

“I’m going to buy a box of Special K breakfast cereal when I go to the supermarket.”

“So how come you came home with a box of Cheerios?”

“I didn’t know they had Cheerios until I saw them on the shelf.”


So the year after next, fueled by my growing success, I will move on to the next level.

  • Level Three – Based On Actual Behavior

If you want to really practice direct response online, the hard way may be your best choice.

This is where you actually measure what people really do.

That’s how you get to know and record the fact that I actually buy Cheerios, not Special K.

That’s how I learn that while parent A thinks his kid will buy a book on Roman Chariot Design, the actual purchase shows ‘Trading Pokemon Cards for Beginners.’

When you track me, segment me, personalize your approach and timing to me, predict what I’m likely to do based on past behaviors and pay your database managers more than your marketing manager – you’ve likely arrived.

So take a quick look at the level of direct response you practice on your site right now. Is it level one, two or three?

Honestly now.

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