Interaction Is Only Step One

Ann Handley, editor in chief of ClickZ, is a pretty nice person. But she does have bite.

Recently she’s being slapping me around the head for talking about just about everything in this column except the one thing I’m meant to be writing about — direct marketing.

Perhaps the reason I’ve hesitated is that I’m sometimes confused by the whole concept of direct marketing online.

I’m bombarded by dozens of conflicting messages. Some tell me that DM online is all about one-to-one email. Others tell me that DM online is just about direct selling from web sites. Others say it’s about collecting data, online coupons, personalization, reward and loyalty programs and goodness knows what else.

And I wonder if, collectively, we have the faintest idea what we’re talking about – or where we’re going.

Anyway, inspired by the heft of Ann’s strong right hand, here’s the map I’ve drawn for myself. Here’s my view of direct marketing online. My definition in five words: “Interaction is only step one.”

“Interaction” is the concept offline direct marketers grew up with. Awareness advertising creates awareness through impressions. Direct marketing was distinguished by the fact that it solicited a response of some kind. Call this number, clip this coupon, mail this card. Please respond.

Underlying these various actions was one common element – interaction. The direct marketer asks for action. The prospect responds. You have interaction.

And interaction is what it’s all about. Because that first response is the beginning of a potential relationship. And, all nice-guy stuff aside, relationships online mean money.

But that first interaction is just the beginning. After all, it’s pretty easy to solicit a response.

“Hey honey, any chance of you and me having a drink or two and making babies?”

“No.”

We have the solicitation, we have the response, we have interaction, but we don’t have a relationship.

So if step one is to create the beginnings of a lucrative relationship through a first interaction, we have to consider something else.

We have to consider the quality and the context of that first interaction. We have to recognize that interaction alone is not enough.

Because the real money comes not out of that first response, but out of a longer-term relationship.

And that’s why I say that interaction is just step one.

There’s a danger here. The Internet is a direct marketer’s dream. It’s so incredibly interactive. Click, click.

As a result, many online direct response models are focussed very much on the first click, the first response, the first interaction.

But that first interaction means very little unless it’s just the first step in a relationship.

The smart money should be looking beyond the tools. Looking beyond the eCoupon, the eCertificate, the email and the growing number of other “eResponse generating” devices online.

These are just the tools. Like the roses, the dinners, the diamonds.

They’re not the relationship.

That’s what I think, anyway. And over the next few weeks I’ll be looking more closely at ways of turning that first interaction into a long-term relationship.

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