Direct marketing from the heart: A plea in favor of genuine and long-term relationships


In direct marketing trust is everything. At least if you want to do it properly. People often talk about privacy, and I would be the first to say that privacy has a very important role to play in your direct marketing strategy. However, trust is even more important.

In the context of a good direct marketing campaign, you communicate directly and personally. You're on firstname terms with your customer, so he naturally expects you to know the person behind the name. But as a result of the intensive use of digital communication, our modern society is suffused by a kind of apathy - a term I use guardedly but, I believe, correctly. In this context, communication is at one and the same time personal yet standoffish. This is confusing for the customer, because however much you may like digitization, there is no getting round the fact that digital communication is less up close and personal than physical communication. For one thing, there is less emotion, at least in straightforward digital direct marketing. There is therefore a real danger of the communication going awry. The social media are a case in point. When you start using the social media as a direct marketing tool, you're heading for trouble. The social media are certainly the ideal channel to support your direct marketing campaign, but improper use of data (accurate or otherwise) within the social media can be very dangerous. As a marketer, you're walking on thin ice, so it's important to know what information you can and can't use, but the accuracy of the data is even more important.

Be a good grocer

There is something that's much more important than privacy, and that is trust. It's one thing to say you want a relationship with your customers and suppliers based on trust, but how do you develop such a relationship? I would compare direct marketing to the work of an old-fashioned local grocer. He had to know his customers, their life and _background and their preferences. He could see and anticipate his customers' reactions and develop a long-term relationship with them. The customer could at any time express the kind of treatment he wanted to receive. He might want to talk about the weather, he may not want to talk about family and friends and he might like to hear a few suggestions about how different products should be prepared... As I mentioned earlier, digitization has made this relationship that bit more difficult. In addition, consumers don't easily volunteer their data and information. The secret is therefore to get accurate information (while complying with the privacy rules) and to use the data properly in line with the customer's wishes. As a result, your respect for privacy translates into trust. If you treat people well, they trust you. These rules of the game apply in our everyday human relationships, but they also apply in the context of digital direct marketing. The social media are sometimes wrongly compared with a grocer who knows everything about everybody in the street. For one thing, users of the social media reveal their true personality only to the people they know and decide what data they want to reveal or conceal. Also, they decide what they want to be upfront about and what they would rather like to say in a different persona (avatar).

Prospection versus loyalty

Trust is therefore something that has to be earned. Correct use of data is a good start. The most recent DMA (Direct Marketing Congress) in Las Vegas gave the example of an electricity producer who sent existing customers a more attractive offer. The electricity company looked to see what rate the customer was paying and calculated whether it was the most advantageous. If it wasn't the best rate, the customer received a proposal to switch to a cheaper plan. This was not for potential customers; it was not prospection. It was simply a service offered to existing customers. This is a good example of using data to serve customers. At the same time, it builds trust.

Too often I hear of businesses looking into new ways to explore the market. Finding new customers is a constant and major concern. On the other hand, they fail to see that they must foster loyalty. The long-term relationship that every marketer dreams of can be built up only by developing trust. You can't leave customer relations to chance.

Short-term or long-term relationships?

Direct marketing is still too often regarded as a one-off intensive event and isn't used enough to create loyalty. Having said that, of course, a one-off event, like a blitz campaign, can be very effective. Direct marketing has its merits in the context of this type of action. However, a snapshot might show an unrepresentative peak, which perhaps doesn't reflect the desired result, at least not in the long term. Nevertheless, there are so many direct marketing channels that can genuinely foster loyalty. For example, email newsletters can be an ideal way to build customer loyalty. Of course, you should not send the same newsletter to all and sundry, but you should rather incorporate variations so as to be able to cater for different profiles more effectively.

In addition to doing the necessary prospection, I think it's very important to see in your customer database what you already have and how you can maintain these relationships before you start to grow. This is the mistake that a lot of marketers and their organizations tend to make. They miscalculate their growth potential. While making the selections for the "Cuckoo Awards" in my capacity as director of the bdma, it struck me that a lot of campaign ideas were sent in, but when it came to giving the "Efficiency Award" or the "Boomerang Award" to campaigns for their long-term relationships with customers, there wasn't much choice. Very little had been submitted, which was very surprising.

Partners and suppliers

In addition to the important relationship with your customer, you also have to consider the partners and suppliers you work with. To be successful, these relationships must be firmly based on trust. Perhaps even more than the relationship with the customer, this "internal" relationship is too often under pressure. In the cross-channel trend that now characterizes the market, you have to mix and match the different communication channels. If your direct marketing strategy is to be successful, it's essential to develop trust among the different people you work with as a direct marketer. Suppose a customer unsubscribes from a newsletter in one of your systems but this information doesn't reach the contact center that organizes your sms services. In this case, you can find yourself in trouble and you can weaken the customer's trust. I would therefore advocate - and unfortunately I realize that this plea isn't new - shifting the data to the management and to the decision-making level. But I would go even further. The entire business philosophy must be geared towards your data.

We're human

We should never forget that knowledge accumulates in the brain of a human. No matter how many systems you connect together, the actual knowledge is in the mind of a marketer, a human being. This means that a tremendous amount of knowledge, data and details in the possession of an organization can be lost when one marketer goes and another takes his place. I would therefore encourage marketing managers to show faith and perseverance with regard to their products. If you rotate them too quickly, you can't properly acquire knowledge of your product, your customer and your organization.

In addition to maintaining a long-term relationship with the customer, it's very important for brands to develop a solid and lasting relationship with their own marketer and his teams. The marketer must therefore leave his ivory tower and really get to know what's happening on the ground. He should go to a trade fair with the sales people and even get talking to potential customers, to get to know the real situation and to have a clearer idea of who the consumer is. I'm not suggesting you should try to get to know all your customers personally. That wouldn't be feasible. However, you could, for example, approach certain people by segment and in this way build the necessary trust. Trust and loyalty operate on many levels. The companies that work on building trust on all of these levels will survive. Trust is the key.

In the next part of her article, Greet will give us a few tips on building trust, as well as some food for thought. So stay tuned!


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