Digital Essays: Unite and Conquer

By Mike Spicer, managing director of Arc Worldwide UK,, Friday, 29 April 2005 01:05PM

DM and digital are natural bedfellows, and it's time for these two media to team up against the outdated scattergun of mass communications.

Conventional wisdom says wear clean underwear in case you get run over. But surely a better piece of advice would be to look more carefully when you're crossing the road.

So, in the spirit of embracing unconventional wisdom, perhaps now's the time to start believing that uniting is the better way to conquer.

I mention this because I've recently been amused by the argument over whether direct marketing and digital should or should not be united. Personally, I believe that where you stand on this issue hinges on your understanding of that single word, "unite".

If you define the word as one party dominating the other, resulting in a loss of individuality, then you'll say no. But if you believe two like-minded individuals, each strong enough to hold their own, can unite in an equal partnership, then you'll probably say yes.

Because - and let's not beat around the bush here - DM and digital are natural bedfellows. Like all partnerships, while it may have been their similarities that brought them together in the first place, it's their differences that keep them together. If you haven't guessed already, I'm all for it. We're already seeing the benefits of a strong partnership between the two.

For a while now, the measuring techniques we've traditionally used for digital have been applied to the insights we've taken from DM, to take "shopper marketing" to a new level. We now know why a particular section of an online store makes it to an internet shopper's favourites list.

And we know what encourages them to add a product to their shopping basket.

The virtual aisle has become easier to understand than the real-world aisle and shoppers have become easier to turn into profitable brand-buyers.

Like DM, digital marketing needs a means of getting through the white noise that is modern-day communication. The same thing that makes you open a DM pack will not make you click through on an e-mail. A big idea, unique to each medium, is the key to getting the results from DM and digital that clients are looking for.

OK, so digital might get a quicker response and might provide far more detailed data. But, at the end of the day, it still comes down to the quality of strategic thinking and the right creative hook to deliver your objectives.

So if the potential is there for a profitable and powerful partnership, how can we keep it that way? If any partnership is to survive, it has to be based on respect. Respect for both the differences and the strengths that made you unique in the first place.

Direct mail's uniqueness lies in the fact that it is tactile (and if you don't think this is important, try reading an e-book on your computer screen). It can be held, touched, interacted with and, yes, if it's bad, thrown into the bin.

Any DM campaign launched today will be highly relevant and targeted. The customer relationship marketing preachers have been converting us for years, so now even the most modest of launches will have done its science.

In time, even more days will be spent reviewing the results from the call centre or fulfilment house, and even more hours spent with a calculator making sure the ROI figures add up. And yet what do we discover time and time again? That the only real, tangible differentiator is that sticky, elusive thing called creativity.

The cold truth is that if you're to stand out from the fast-food menus, gym membership offers and 0 per cent credit card offerings from GlobalBank Inc, creativity is your only hope. This is what makes DM such a relevant and exciting discipline.

The internet, on the other hand, offers us far greater accountability and knowledge. Data analysis tells us what has been read and what hasn't. We even know when consumers have read it, and where they go next once they're armed with this knowledge.

This allows us to respond in a far more involving and relevant way. It's through analysing, then building on this data, that we can develop a campaign that is likely to work just as well through direct mail.

DM and digital are both naturals when it comes to capturing data. Both can encourage consumers to hand over personal information about themselves while they are interacting with their brands. In fact, I will go so far as to say that if clients are not looking closely at how to combine their direct marketing and digital campaigns, they are missing a trick.

Using one medium without the other means that you're not making the most of the opportunities open to your brand. Not only are you missing out on the opportunity to have a deeper relationship with your consumer, you're also missing out on the chance to capture valuable information that could help you to build a profitable, long-term relationship.

Once data is captured, then stored centrally, a brand can start fine-tuning its communications. Fiat has been integrating digital and DM for the past three years, with some impressive results. A good example is the Fiat Ulysse launch. An e-mail campaign, targeting families with two or three children, was sent out to 45,000 people. The data collected was then used to create a personalised mailing to hot prospects, addressed from Fiat dealerships near to the potential car owners.

Two thousand such leads were converted into 130 Ulysse buyers and Fiat made a profit of £10 for every £1 spent on the campaign. This simply would not have been possible if digital and DM had been separate.

I will leave you with one other thought. Ask yourself, if direct marketing and digital are to unite, who are they uniting against?

The answer is surely the scattergun of mass communications, which lack credibility and struggle to keep up with advances in technology. After all, for brands to survive in today's market, we all know that they have to communicate with authenticity, honesty and relevance - in my view, there is only one partnership capable of getting us close.

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