Digital Essays: Return on involvement

Employing both old and new media in a direct marketing campaign to help ensure audience opt-in can deliver better results than either would alone.

Last week, I read in a Harvard Business Review article that three professors had produced a formula they say will dramatically increase revenues, slash marketing costs and improve return on investment by anything between 150 to 200 per cent.

The formula is based on using something called Bayesian maths rather than linear regressions to analyse your data and ... OK, OK, I'm losing you. I've never read the Harvard Business Review and I made it all up.

Or did I? See, that is the problem with theories, formulas and conjectures - they are complex and subjective.

I, on the other hand, have found the Holy Grail of digital and direct marketing and it is not about maths or poor data sources. It is really simple and it is all about involvement and the way in which marketers should engage consumers.

Return on involvement, as we call it, is the basis of our digital and direct success: turning push marketing to pull as the campaign idea unfolds. It relies on finding a creative idea to achieve the vital opt-in for further communication; creating an idea that involves customers to the point of them wanting to find out more. Bill Bernbach, the greatest adman of the 20th century, said: "Is creativity some obscure, esoteric art form? Not on your life. It's the most practical thing a businessman can employ." This creative approach delivers the best ROI (in both forms) that advertisers have been offered since Bill's time in the heyday of commercial television.

Where does this success come from? From offering better opportunities to respond by delivering consumer-focused communications through digital and direct media.

Using the latest video and software technology, we can deliver personalised desktop television at a fraction of traditional broadcast cost. Direct marketing in this millennium (and I am including digital here) represents a way to communicate to buyers in an intelligent and engaging way. Rather than mass-marketing a huge cross-section of potential business, you should ensure that wastage is minimised and you achieve the highest likelihood of effective response.

Intelligent marketers are recognising that these narrowcast digital methods are best deployed in conjunction with traditional media. We call it: "Media triggers media."

So when you get an e-mail asking you to visit a website, how about you only receive the direct mail after you have engaged with the site? From a unique URL in the e-mail, we can track who visits the website and see the level of involvement, and take a call on who gets the follow-up DM.

Evidence shows that by your opting in to receiving the direct mail, it guarantees greater effectiveness for a medium that now looks expensive compared with the per-unit hit rate possible with e-mail or text.

By this method, it is possible to combine new and old media, but increased cost efficiencies are driving this combined digi-direct approach. Pursuing a simple strategy of one medium or the other is no doubt working for many of you, but put the two together and the overall results are far better than either could have achieved on their own.

Direct marketing is just not working as well as it used to, in part because there is so much of it. Also because people have learned to ignore it.

We are entering a time when we no longer accept the idea that we have the right to disturb and interrupt consumers with intrusive media such as telemarketing, e-mail or direct mail. The annoyance level is too high and the legislators are poised if self-regulation does not prove to be more effective than it is at present. It is what lies behind Information Commissioner research that shows protecting people's personal information is now the third-highest-priority issue for UK citizens, behind improving education and reducing crime. And it lies behind legal changes that mean one-third of the electoral roll database is no longer available to direct marketers.

Which all goes to show that getting permission, then getting personal, achieves the best results all round.

Word of mouth is a key indicator of campaign success. Thus, the future for DM and customer relationship marketing lies not in harvesting, selling and using consumer data. Instead, it lies in encouraging and facilitating individuals to opt in to marketing and volunteer information about what they are planning to do and when.

This means all customer touchpoints - including any involving DM - need to be able to provide a positively differentiating brand experience: an experience consumers want to share, hence the importance of the pass-on effect test or word of mouth.

This is not just because we have all become more demanding. It is also because in today's connected society, word of mouth is playing an increasing role in determining purchasing behaviour - and brand success. Yet the problem with word of mouth as a marketing force is it is all too often not positive - and it is difficult to control. Most of us are more likely to regale friends with negative tales of brand experience, simply because they are typically more numerous.

We might even add to the numerous blogs that are causing some brands problems.

I believe that in an opt-in world, brands whose digital and DM communications generate positive comment achieve the pass-on effect, and those delivering the promised brand experience have every chance of becoming the strongest brands with the richest customer databases. And because new technology means cost is not a barrier to better marketing, they may not be the biggest or richest brands of today.

- Peter Riley is a founder and creative partner of 20:20 London.

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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).