New Rules Of The Game – Part I

Imagine receiving a piece of offline direct mail. You open the envelope and decide you want to buy whatever is on offer. Then you have to find a pen, complete the coupon, address an envelope, lick it and close it, buy a stamp, lick that too, pull on your coat and find a mailbox. That’s a lot of work.

Now come online, find the same item and click on “Buy Now.” And that’s it. You’re done. (Assuming you’ve already completed a customer profile at that site.)

The convenience of buying with a click is a wonderful thing for both buyer and seller.

Want to be a direct marketer online? Welcome one and all! It’s a piece of cake!

Well, actually…no. It isn’t.

If you have offline direct marketing experience, it’s tempting to think that the web environment is the same, but easier.

I hear direct marketers talk about the same old approaches from a very long time ago. They talk about the “offer,” the “list,” the “creative.” And this is all good stuff. (Unless you’ve heard it all before a thousand times and have a short attention span.)

But here comes the big mistake. A lot of these people view the Internet simply as a new direct marketing medium.

In fact, last week I was speaking at Web Marketing ’99 in Monterey and noticed that a couple of my fellow speakers also referred to the Internet as a “medium.”

I beg to differ. From a commercial perspective the Internet is not a “medium,” it’s an entirely new business environment.

And it has its own rules. So by all means bring your offline direct marketing experience with you. Much of it will be very valuable. But don’t assume that the landscape is the same, because it isn’t.

There are a number of key differences that you have to consider. I’ll tackle a number of these over the coming weeks. Here is number one. (Number one in the list, not necessarily number one in importance.)

V The compression in timelines changes everything.

Offline you might take a number of weeks in the development of a direct mail piece. Another couple of weeks for printing and lettershop. Get it in the mail and then wait a few days for the mail to be delivered. Wait another 10 days or so for most of the replies to be returned by mail or phone. Wait another week or two for the results to be collated, analyzed and presented. That’s maybe two months, if all goes well. More likely three months or more.

Online, you may have a special coming up on your site and decide to email your opt-in list with news of this great offer. Plus some banner and newsletter buys to reach new prospects.

Can you spend three months doing this? You wish! Within that timeline some kids in a garage in ‘Hometown USA’ will have reinvented your category, raised $10 million in venture capital and will be warming up for their IPO. (I exaggerate but only a bit.)

How long will it take you? If you’re in a hurry, you may be looking at compressing that offline, three-month timeline into two weeks or less.

And within those two weeks you may be able to run more tests on your creative, lists, and online media buys that you could have achieved over a six-month period offline.

Why so fast? Because the market demands it.

From a technological point of view, this is all certainly achievable if you have the right systems in place. But those systems are very different to what you’re used to offline.

But when you compress timelines to this degree, it’s not just the technology that has to change. That’s the easy part.

Your “human” systems have to change as well. That means a whole new way of thinking and acting for your company internally.

But the most challenging “human change” that is created by this compression of time is the change in the expectations of your customers.

Because while you’re looking forward to generating accelerated sales within just a few days, your customers are looking forward to accelerated service within the same period.

So here’s the question we’ll look at next week.

V How can you keep up with the growing expectations of your customers online?

Because if online direct marketing and offline direct marketing have just one thing in common, it’s this: Unhappy customers don’t come back.

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