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Stupid Client Tricks

Over the last two decades I’ve helped hundreds of brands navigate the wonderful (and sometimes seedy and terrifying) world of direct response marketing. It’s exciting to see quality companies come into the industry with innovative products and ideas, but equally distressing to see many of them fail.  Despite my and many other expert’s best consul and efforts, a large percentage of the Fortune 500 have difficulty implementing successful direct strategies.  Perhaps it has something to do with the heritage of direct versus the necessary entrenched bureaucracy of most mega-corporations.  Direct is all about scrappy, efficient marketing, salesmanship, testing to success, and measurement based on performance. Conversely, the traditional agency world has convinced corporate America that advertising is really about voodoo exposure ratings, obscure and often unintelligible creative genius, and hopefully a Super Bowl spot.    

OK, perhaps it is professional suicide to write a column that mentions “client” and “stupid” in the same title, but I am continually disturbed by the fact that many great companies that could utilize direct as a valuable part of their advertising and marketing mix make the same mistakes.  Unlike the traditional agency model that hits clients with huge fees on the front end and then develop unaccountable systems designed to make it difficult to get fired, a direct agency’s compensation is typically tied the client’s profitability.  So we take it personally when mistakes destroy both our bottom lines. Here are a few of the most common “stupid client tricks” I see repeated:

Allow the brand agency to manage the direct campaign.  This is akin to having Jennifer Aniston manage Angelina Jolie’s career.  Brand agencies not only don’t understand how direct works, but by their very nature they are opposed to it on multiple levels. 

Failing to identify and stick to clear objectives for the campaign.  Direct is all about measurement.  What is the goal, and how will we identify and measure success?  Corporations are often shifting objectives so quickly that it is difficult to establish and stick to a single goal.  Many clients enter the industry without a clear vision of what they want to achieve, and consequently never know if they are successful.

The consultant conundrum.  Companies new to the industry often seek the assistance of consultants.  While there are a handful of experts that can be of great assistance, many of the so-called direct experts have not been active in the business for years, or have very limited hands-on experience.  Direct is incredibly dynamic and changes on a monthly basis, so if your consultant’s most credentials are more than a year old, they are probably out of touch with the industry. It is common to claim unjustified credit for successes.  If you elect to use a consultant, check them out in-depth to make sure they are current in the industry and that their stated credentials are real.  Make sure you know how they are compensated.  A consultant that takes “referral fees” from vendors might not have your best interests at heart. If you choose the right agency, chances are that you won’t need a consultant. 

Utilize brand research to make direct decisions. Clients frequently want to fall back to their brand research to make creative and strategic decisions regarding their direct efforts.  While product and demographic research can be helpful in constructing offers and the product pitch, it is largely useless as a predictor of success in direct.  A focus group environment does not equate to grabbing a consumer and enticing them to buy.  There is no replacement for live testing. 

Back-end mismanagement. Proper telemarketing, web, and customer service management, and fast and accurate reporting from all response channels are essential to a successful campaign.  Yet a high percentage of clients insist on using their in-house resources that typically cannot handle the spikes and peculiarities of direct. The agency needs fast and accurate response data to optimize media. Without it, you waste money.

Analysis Paralysis.  I often see very appropriate products for direct fail because of corporate bureaucracy.  Sometimes they are even successful during the test, but never roll out due to internal issues.  Direct is a fast-paced marketing channel that involves testing and changing to optimize the campaign.  If your corporate structure does not allow for a bit of internal entrepreneurship, then the format might not be appropriate for your company.

Spending based on budget – not results.  The beauty of direct is in the immediate response data.  When successful marketers hit goals, they keep spending as long as they stay within the ROI target.  They never establish fixed budgets that would be too much if they were unsuccessful and too little if they have a hit.

Working with the right resources and really heeding your direct agency’s advice assures that a client doesn’t make the above mistakes.  The power of direct is its accountability, and when properly set-up and orchestrated everyone is incentivized to make the client successful. 

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