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Direct Marketing Getting Social

Posted on Jul 15th, 2009
Written by Lee Odden
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    DMA Social Media Smarts NYC Class June 2009

    DMA Social Media Smarts NYC Class June 2009 - Photo credit Scott Plumptree

    In a past career of mine where the nature of the business required educating and evangelizing as a sales process, a colleague related a “vintage” story to me about phases in which new ideas or concepts are adopted by mass markets. It involved the introduction of the refrigerator in a time when ice boxes were the norm for keeping food cold.  The idea was to show how not everyone “gets” a new product because of how they make decisions, biases and fundamental resistance to change.

    The story went something like this. Representatives from a refrigerator company made appointments with consumers and presented a compelling offer: swap the ice box for a refrigerator and make payments no more than what was being paid to the ice delivery man.

    The majority of those provided this offer accepted. Another 20% or so needed to hear from their friends that this was a good idea before accepting. Yet another 20% needed to see that most people were switching to the refrigerator, i.e. it became the norm, before making the change. The remaining few percent held out, resistant to any type of change.

    Whether the story about the refrigerators is literally true or not, I don’t know. But it brings up an interesting way of understanding how people have been influenced to change by marketing in the past that wouldn’t work so well today. Traditional marketing tactics would emphasize making an offer that makes so much sense, like swapping a messy icebox for a modern refrigerator at the same cost; consumers would “buy in”.

    The problem with continuing to rely on that model of marketing is increasing numbers of consumers ignore formal marketing messages and offers. If they don’t notice the offer, they can’t respond to it.

    As the social web eliminates physical boundaries for making connections with friends, family, like minded individuals and even the brands people buy from, there’s more interest in a participatory or social marketing process. Consumers connect about things of interest to them and brands have an opportunity to listen and engage in conversations in a way that demonstrates the value of their products and services. There’s an opportunity to provide value, before seeing a direct return. The give to get principle for social media participation by brands results in goodwill, educated consumers and buzz.

    A good example of that includes creating social network groups to provide consumers a place to socialize and for brands to introduce new products, gain feedback, crowd source ideas, “energize” brand evangelists and listen/respond to concerns. Mashable has a good write up on brands that use Facebook Fan pages that do this such as Pringles, Coca Cola, Starbucks, Addidas and Red Bull.

    This is not to say making compelling offers to a relevant audience doesn’t work, because it certainly does in the right situations. The direct marketing industry is alive and well, albeit going through many changes. Many of those changes involve the need to understand the social nature of persuasion in digital marketing and what new online influences motivate consumers to make buying decisions.

    One effort at facilitating this change is the formation at the DMA of a new Social Media Council. Open to employees of DMA member companies, the Social Media Council is a special interest group within the DMA that will serve as a source of awareness, information, discussion and advancement in knowledge of how direct marketing practitioners can better evolve social web best practices to meet the needs of the changing marketplace. In conjunction with HeadMix, the DMA SMC has already begun conducting research and reporting results.

    I’ll be involved with this group as the founding chairperson, so you may see a few posts here in the future about DMA social media research and education efforts. In fact, if you’re attending the DMA Annual conference in San Diego this year, the DMA SMC will be having an introductory meeting and discussion panel that will provide a platform for attendees to discuss issues and join the DMA’s core efforts in the social media space. When that event draws near I’ll post more details about the who, what, why and when.