What Brands Can Learn From Direct Marketers - Jaffer Ali

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Cover image for  article: What Brands Can Learn From Direct Marketers - Jaffer Ali

It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.

--Harry S Truman

Since1996, we have run two online businesses simultaneously; a media company selling advertising (Vidsense), and an e-commerce company steeped in direct marketing (PulseTV.com). I haven't written much about our direct marketing company, generally pushing it to the back of the bus.

But on my drive into work this morning, it struck me that each type of marketing – brand marketing and direct marketing – actually have a lot to learn from each other. Direct marketing has taken the online space by storm, not necessarily due to overwhelming acumen, but generally as a result of a crushing oversupply of unsold ad space and a "build it and they will come" mentality.

Brand marketers, with their MBAs at the helm, are trying to apply direct marketing principles to online media buying. Generally they are adept at the science of numbers, but only have a passing understanding of what the essential requirements are to master the art of persuasion. In short, these brand marketers often are neither fish nor fowl and aimlessly pursue an objective by numbers devoid of a full appreciation of what it takes to succeed in direct marketing (DM).

So what is the overriding lesson brand marketers can learn from their cousins, the direct marketers?

All direct marketers understand that the real magic of online marketing unfolds on the advertisers' website. Let that sink in for a few seconds. In order to consummate the sale, direct marketers want…actually need…to engage consumers on the marketer's home turf. This is the chief reason the click has become the currency of choice for direct marketers. Other than actual per-sale metrics, the click captures the essence of what DM is all about.

DM companies are not interested in illusory metrics like potential reach, which is the snake oil currently being peddled to brand marketers. Brand marketers and their agencies try to distance themselves from the click because they have no real appreciation for what Bill Bernbach called the environment to buy, that special place where consumer demand and brand message converge. DM folks may not have heard of Bill Bernbach, but it is they – unwittingly or not – who have embraced his sage advice in the creation of destination pages that engage audiences.

And what are the brand marketers doing?

They are attempting to engage audiences through display advertising – be it on AOL.com, NYTimes.com, or wherever – that no one wants and which everyone is inclined and equipped to avoid, despite the avalanche of data that advises otherwise. The environment in which brand messages dwell is a cluttered milieu with an average of more than 170 competing links per page*. This is not an environment to buy, it's an environment to flee.At best it is an environment to be ignored. DM is all about engaging audiences and turning them into consumers – exactly what a good environment to buy achieves for the lucky brand not mired in its own dead-end inertia.

There are many reading this who undoubtedly question digital's ability to engender scale. While this is certainly the case with the prevailing advertising as intermediary model, it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Ask Amazon if it scales as a destination site. Also, if large publishers can attract traffic in scale with content so can the brands that foot the bill.

As they say, the answer is in the question, so perhaps we should simply be asking ourselves: Why does anyone visit any website? Here's a clue: It's not for the ads.

All marketing success online may be a simple matter of shifting our emphasis where the magic should occur. The DM crowd already knows this. Maybe they're just more circumspect about things because they're playing with their own money, but one thing's for certain: Truman's quotation at the beginning was only half right. It's actually what we forgot after learning all this new stuff that really counts.

*This figure was calculated by long-time industry veteran, Larry Smith and he coined a clever term, SOX, "Share of Exit" links.

Jaffer Ali is the CEO of the video network, Vidsense. To contact him, send an email to j.ali@vidsense.com.

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