Taking the direct approach

In a region where media research is usually lacking, direct marketing is the only medium to offer a measurable return on investment, writes Iain Akerman

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By  Iain Akerman Published  September 18, 2005

Taking the direct approach|~|SHANBH~200.jpg|~|‘People have to understand that direct marketing is much bigger than direct mail’ Samir Shanbhag, group account director relationship marketing at Lowe Dubai|~|Sitting on many desks around the Middle East will be numerous examples of direct marketing. They will vary in interest and effectiveness and may include such delights as fluorescent mobile phone holders, pint-sized rugby balls and flexible rulers. They are designed to catch your attention, to engender a reaction and pass on a message. To many they will be a nuisance that turned up unexpectedly in the post, to others they will represent an effective marketing tool. Definitions of direct marketing are many and varied, but most observers agree that it is a form of advertising that attempts to send its messages directly to consumers through mediums like mail, giveaways, e-mails or SMS messages. It differs from regular advertising in that it does not communicate its messages through a third party medium such as a TV station or newspaper. The message goes directly from the provider to the consumer. When done well, it can be cost effective and offers value to the consumer. When done badly it can be intrusive and even turn the consumer against the brand in question. For most people around the world, a flexible ruler or a pint-sized rugby ball is a mere raindrop in the downpour of letters, leaflets, brochures, catalogues, e-mails and text messages that bombard them on a daily basis. Such indiscriminate carpet-bombing has helped give direct marketing a bad name. Alexander McNabb, group account director at Spot On Public Relations in Dubai and a Campaign Middle East columnist, said in a recent column that he was becoming ‘intensely irritated’ by ‘spam’ SMS messages and e-mails. “We don’t want them, we don’t like them and the vast majority of people I talk to have very negative perceptions indeed of companies that send them unsolicited mail,” he said. In his mind, the central issue revolves around the fact that there are still many marketers out there who believe unsolicited messages are a good idea. “It’s something of a worry because it does demonstrate a remarkable lack of thought — let alone tact or respect for the target audience,” he said. And he’s not alone. Speaking at the first Direct Marketing conference and exhibition held in Dubai in June, Paul Gostick, international chairman of The Chartered Institute of Marketing, said that lazy marketers were in danger of killing off direct marketing. “We as consumers are over communicated with,” he said. “I think the industry is moving into lazy marketing because it is easy, rather than thinking ‘who am I targeting and who is it designed for’.” These sentiments are echoed industry-wide in the Middle East. Martin Diessner, chief executive officer of Flip Media in Dubai, says: “If you look at direct marketing, I think it’s been over used, especially traditional direct marketing where many ad agencies found out you could make money through such a channel and sold it to their clients. Look at all the mail pieces that end up in front of your office door. I wouldn’t call them direct mail; I would call them mass-market flyers because there is no personalisation. It’s not targeted at all. I get stuff for families and I’m single and have no kids. I get associated with brands that I wouldn’t even consider ever buying. The worst thing is you get messages and then you can’t unsubscribe.” Jeremy Taylor-Riley, managing director of Wunderman in Jordan, adds: “The thing about junk mail is that it means that somebody sent something to an audience that the communication wasn’t relevant to. If communication by direct means is relevant and timely then it ceases to be junk mail.” So why does so much communication fail to be relevant and timely? Lowe Dubai’s group account director, relationship marketing, Samir Shanbhag, who won the first ever direct marketing Cannes Gold Lion while working for a previous employer in India, believes the reason comes down to the wrong people for the job. “What’s happening is that advertising agencies have direct marketing divisions within their set up, so it is just one more division to add to the mix,” says Shanbhag. “You have below the line, you have CRM, you have PR, but there is no specialist in there for direct marketing. Typically the understanding of direct marketing is direct mail, so every brief from a client is approached from that point of view. The first question is ‘do you have a database?’. ‘No.’ Well, we’ll get you a database. “Everything starts and ends at ‘do you have a database?’ or ‘can I get you a database?’. We have to stop thinking that lists and databases are the only way to do direct marketing. People have to understand that direct marketing is much bigger than direct mail.” Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with him. Talk to ten different people and you’ll get ten different definitions of how to carry out direct marketing or, indeed, what direct marketing is. “I think it’s up to the agencies to take things forward,” says Taylor-Riley. “What I’ve seen in the market in Jordan is if you put ‘advertising agency’ over your door, clients come in. But a lot of agencies don’t have a lot of global experience so they’re selling the lowest common denominator.” Diessner believes the problems lie in training. “It comes down to education — client side and agency side. I don’t know a single person who is really an expert in this type of field.” If education is needed, it needs to be learnt quickly. Done well, direct marketing is incredibly clever, can get excellent results and is one of the few tools in the region that can provide an exact response rate. Taylor-Riley believes there are a number of key factors that are essential to ensuring a direct marketing campaign is successful and doesn’t fall into the annoying and ultimately damaging junk mail trap. Campaigns must be time bound, provide a genuine offer that is relevant, give recipients a reason to act now and, most importantly, be measurable and accountable. It is the ‘measurable and accountable’ soundbite that should ring loudest in the ears of marketers in the Middle East. With the majority of magazines and newspapers in the region unaudited and audience measurement virtually non-existent in television, radio and outdoor, direct marketing holds a trump card over most other advertising disciplines. It is how this trump card is played and how it is integrated into a comprehensive marketing campaign that is critical. Amitabh Swarup, director of client services at Praxis Advertising in Dubai, says: “This is a market where direct marketing can be very effective. “The market is so heterogeneous, so segmented that you can go straight to your customers if you have the tools to do it and it can be very cost effective and you know exactly what your response rates are.” Diessner says that any campaign ||**||Taking the direct approach|~|Diessner-Martin200.jpg|~|Direct action ... Flip Media chief executive office Martin Diessner|~|Flip Media undertakes is instantly measurable. The company is able to analyse how many people have opened an e-mail per age group, gender, income group and occupation and take those results into any further campaigns. As a consequence, any given campaign can be “very efficient and extremely inexpensive” according to Diessner. Lowe Dubai’s creative director Manoj Ammanath, who recently won a Gold World at the New York Advertising Festival for Lowe’s direct marketing work for Emirates Sky Cargo, says: “Direct marketing still remains one of the most effective advertising tools. If I have identified a target and locked them in you have a better rate of convincing them. “Direct marketing should go deeper into understanding what the consumer is. If you know his name and his habits, that’s when you’re getting into classic direct marketing. “But it’s a glamour thing. A lot of advertisers say, ‘let’s make a 60-second film’ and put it on air. But you don’t know how much money you’ve wasted and you don’t know if you’ve talked successfully to the consumer.” Louise Jeffreys, marketing manager at IIR Middle East, which organised this year’s Direct Marketing conference in Dubai, says: “The strength of direct marketing lies in the fact that it is trackable, whereas TV ads are very expensive and you have no idea whether they’re working or not.” Taylor-Riley adds: “Generally speaking with TV, unless there’s a phone number and you run an ad that says ‘ring this number in the next half an hour for your chance to receive an additional value’, a traditional brand campaign is not accountable because it doesn’t drive action in that measurable manor.” Compared to America and Europe, where direct marketing accounts for 56% of total advertising spend, the Arab world spends only 2% on the same discipline. Some reasons for this are obvious. “There’s a very simple reason for it,” says Diessner. “And that is that the address system is not as advanced in the Middle East as, say, in the UK. I know where I live, but I’ve never seen a postman and I don’t even know the name of the street, the name of the house and whether it has a post box attached to it or not.” But Taylor-Riley adds that the market is still in the early stages of development. “This market in its infancy, which means direct marketing and CRM are very hot buzz phrases but we’re finding that many clients actually don’t understand what it is and, when it comes to the costs of CRM they’re very conservative about the amount of money they would invest in this philosophy. “The region wants to grow and work at the same levels as America, the UK and Australia as far as sophistication of communication, but the investment doesn’t actually match the desire to operate to global standards.” Shanbhag adds: “The key is identifying the right touch points and the right triggers. Everything is a touch point — a parking lot is a touch point, standing in the elevator is a touch point. Where that touch point can be amalgamated with the message to deliver it most effectively is where direct marketing works best. ” Taylor-Riley is sure the future lies in direct marketing and CRM and is dismissive of other traditional forms of advertising. “We’re in an age now where we can’t afford purely brand communication. Every piece of communication has got to have a call to action, whether it is to go to a website to find out more or to phone a number to see how you can benefit,” he says. “You can’t run ads that just say this is our brand because that becomes wallpaper. We’ve all got to be in the business of creating a sale today while building a brand over a longer period of time.” For now, direct marketing may be the solution to keeping valued customers interested in your brand. But, as Taylor-Riley admits, it might not be top of the client wish list forever. “The problem is that direct marketing and CRM are the buzz phrases at the moment but the buzz word will be something else in five years’ time,” he says. “So we’ll never reach nirvana because nirvana’s moved.”||**||

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