Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Tuesday Tip No. 36 - How To Do Direct

Delighted to have Shaun McIlrath writing this one. Shaun is a creative director at Hurrell and Dawson, London, and the former founder of Heresy and ImpactFCA! He is one of Britain’s most highly-regarded integrated creatives.

Dear Valued Blog Reader,

How does that introduction make you feel? Like a piece of shit, would be my guess. And yet, there are thousands of well-paid Direct Marketing professionals starting pieces of communication like this every day.

So, the first thing you need to know about Direct is that any advice you might get from a Direct ‘expert’ should be treated as deeply suspect.

This is how companies speak:

Dear Valued Customer.

As part of our ongoing improvement initiative we are centralising data, in order to provide a more streamlined service. We are also taking this opportunity to realign customer sales and are, therefore, in the process of updating our information. Enclosed you will find a Customer Satisfaction Questionnaire. Complete the FREEPOST form and send it back before June and you could WIN A HOLIDAY FOR TWO.

That is a real letter. From a company. It says only one thing: companies don’t give a fuck about you, they want your money and, at the end of the day, you are nothing more than a name on a list in a huge numbers game.

People, on the other hand…this is how people speak:

Dear Bob,

Since I was promoted to MD, I’ve noticed that no one tells me bad news any more. Now, I may just be paranoid, but I’m harbouring the suspicion that parts of our service aren’t as good as they could be. So, who better to ask than someone who uses it every day? Are we as good as we could be, or are there areas where we’re dodgy? Go on, give it to us right between the eyes – because, ultimately, my job depends on you being happy.

Notice the difference? It’s human, I feel valued and I might even be prepared to reply without the bribe.

If I had to distil everything I’ve learned into one sentence it would be this: it is your job to help your clients be uncorporate – to be human. You can do it through comms, or by working within the company to help make it more accessible and helpful to the customer – but do it, because it will make their behaviour more distinctive and their comms more engaging.

And why shouldn’t they be engaging? Why shouldn’t people look forward to the next piece of Direct from a company, the way Heineken drinkers used to look forward to the new TV spot?

Which leads me to my next point – most people think that Direct Marketing means Direct Mail.

Not the case. Sure, the DM industry mows down countless rainforests each year to clog up your letterbox with commercial effluent. But that’s only because it’s an industry entirely devoid of vision.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The new digital age should be the Direct industry’s birthright, because the digital space is all about relationships and good Direct practitioners understand those better than anyone else. But most DM companies are still folding paper or, at best, doing banner ads.

With the new ability to migrate relationships online comes a huge opportunity to create seriously great, bespoke communication. Stuff that could genuinely add value to consumers’ lives.

But have you seen or experienced any of this? No. Well, if you want to retire rich, here’s your chance.

Direct agencies should be producing more engaging pieces of work than any ad agency – all in a gloriously unregulated space.

A space where consumers are the marketing directors, with access to millions of people. What they say in a blog can be a million times more influential than any £10m TV campaign. Here they are both “dear” and “valued” customers.

So, we should think of Direct, not as a sales dialogue between company and consumer, but as a multilogue. Consumer-generated – real, human communications - not even remotely corporate, but facilitated by a corporation.

And Direct agencies? Imagine a hybrid between today’s digital agency and a TV company at the dawn of commercial television, making great new pieces of content designed to foster a responsive, ongoing relationship. Experimentation and novelty are the keys to success. Concepts are tested live. If they work they are developed, if they don’t they’re canned - that day.

Do you work in a company like that? Nope? Not many people do. But that’s what Direct Marketing could be.

Thanks Shaun

Tip No.35 - How To Do Radio
Tip No.34 - How To Do Press
Tip No.33 - How To Do TV
Tip No.32 - How To Do Digital
Tip No.31 - How To Do Posters
Tip No.30 - Look At Weird Shit
Tip No.29 - Presenting To The Client
Tip No.28 - Presenting To The Team
Tip No.27 - Presenting To The Creative Director
Tip No.26 - How To Deal With Rejection
Tip No.25 - Look Creative
Tip No.24 - Don't Be Afraid To Ask
Tip No.23 - Your Idea Has To Be 120%
Tip No.22 - Read Iain's Tips
Tip No.21 - Don't Behave
Tip No.20 - How To Discuss Ideas
Tip No.19 - Read Hugh's Tips
Tip No.18 - How To Get A Job In Advertising Part IV - How To Turn A Placement Into A Job
Tip No.17 - How To Get A Job In Advertising Part III - How To Approach Agencies (re-print of Tip No. 7)
Tip No.16 - How To Get A Job In Advertising Part II - How To Put A Book Together
Tip No. 15 - How To Get A Job In Advertising Part I - FAQ
Tip No. 14 - Make Friends With Traffic
Tip No. 13 - Get Reference
Tip No. 12 - Don't Stop Too Soon
Tip No.11 - Be Very
Tip No.10 - Breaking Up
Tip No.9 - Working Well With Your Partner
Tip No.8 - Finding The Right Partner
Tip No.7 - How To Approach Agencies
Tip No.6 - Never-Seen-Before Footage
Tip No.5 - Dicketts' Finger
Tip No.4 - Two Blokes In The Pub
Tip No.3 - Play Family Fortunes
Tip No.2 - Should You Take A Bad Job?
Tip No.1 - Don't Overpolish


Anonymous said...

Thanks Scamp; another excellent 'How to'. Having worked with Shaun briefly, I can testify that he's a bone fide genius. And now he owes me a pint.

Anonymous said...

Dear Shaun

Do Hurrell and Dawson produce any advertising?

Is it any good?

Stanley Johnson said...

Re Hurrell & Dawson advertising: If Shaun's dream became a reality there would be no real need for advertising as we know it. Surely?

Hickesy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Award winning corporate blog from an unlikely company.

Anonymous said...

Good piece. Why is this guy at Hurrell and Dawson? By the sounds of it he has better things to be doing. An ad agency run by a planner and a suit that has produced a lot of PR and no ads (ok, it's still young!) doesn't seem to be the place for an integrated guru.

Anonymous said...

Hu-fucking-rray. At last someone who can make direct exciting. Clients spend so much money on that shit it would be nice to think that it could become something great. I'll sign up for that agency.

Cleaver said...

Here's my question for Shaun:

It's one thing to write great piece of copy. It's quite another for that copy to come out with its integrity intact after all seventeen people who want to "add some value" at the client end are through with it.

How do you protect it?

I realise this is a problem for all media, but it seems to me that it's particularly acute for DM.

If you're doing, say, a press ad, there are very few elements to screw with, and each of them will be fundamental to the idea. Therefore it's more likely to be worth going to the mat.

With long copy, on the other hand, few changes in themselves will be fatal. But after a couple of weeks a piece of copy like your second example will, by some dark magic, have been transmuted into your first.

How do you stop death by a thousand cuts?

Anonymous said...

I think Shaun's point is that we can be doing much more that writing long copy mail pieces. Which may inadvertently, if you are right about client hacks going to town on long copy, stop them destroying your work.

Anonymous said...

Shaun McIlrath may well be a bona fide genius. The reason most of us aren't interested in DM is because no one will see it and shallow, venal creatures that we are, many of us got into this business for a little bit of fame. The New DM he describes here seems to be different though. Worth a look in!

Rana said...

An excellent article. It is common sense. It is happening now.

I would already say that there is no place in the modern world for direct marketing in the old blanket sense. All new marketing needs to be consumer-driven, it needs to be targeted, it needs to customised, it needs to be measurable.

Only quoting (not endorsing) one example, the likes of Don Peppers have been saying this for ten years. Shaun has got it spot on, and he summarised the main points perfectly. This is the future.

Anonymous said...

Good examples. People really underestimate how untrustworthy corporate speak comes across. Not just in DM but all communications. Unfortunately for too many corporations and individuals have set corporate speak as their default. Fortunately it can be untrained...

Anonymous said...

Interesting point about vanity anonymous. Although bear in mind that some pieces of direct mail are produced and sent out in the millions. So although many people will see your work, I think the issue you refer to is that they're highly unlikely to start a conversation with "Hey did you get that piece of junk mail from Capital One last week? Corker!"

Anonymous said...

Dear valued Shaun and Scamp,

Whilst the second example is clearly way better than than the first in terms of craft, is it really any better a communication?

Yes it feels human, but it is not human, it's written by a marketing department, the word 'bob' has been generated from a database and the name at the bottom of the letter (presumably there would be one) would never be a real one in case the 10,000,000 customers decide to avail themselves of the opportunity to write back, or decide to ask their new friend, the recently promoted MD how to fix their video or whatever.

Humans walk upright, have views on the weather and can smell bullshit a mile off.

Is this bullshit? Of course it is. It's steaming.

If you don't think so, ask yourself, what are the two scenarios. Either some schmuck picks the thing up and thinks 'fucking hell, the MD of this company has written just to me and really wants to know what I think, that's amazing' (in old money, a 'lie'), or 'oh more marketing bollocks' (the truth and exactly the same as the first one).

Treating people in a human and engaging way isn't a question of copy style. It's a question of doing just that, and for huge corporates to really do that is really hard and really really expensive thing to do.

Why not tell some hard truths and treat customers like the grown ups they are:

Dear customer 0009908899 [our records say your name is Bob],

We've attached a questionnaire. If you fill it in, we'll give you a fiver, and we'll analyse the hell out of all the data we get and try and make our service better.

Typically we find only bored housewives and mentally ill people fill the form out, which is why they like our service so much etc etc.

(the latest press ad could be printed on the back)

Joker said...

I'm still haunted by two DM's I did two years ago that I'm STILL receiving.... As for the debate regarding language usage, tone and manner, yes humanoids can smell bullshit a mile off, but if there's an offer in there we'll bite sometimes. That doesn't go to say that the first example Shaun gave isn't totally despiseable because it is, and it degrades a brand to the point of sounding like a fucking computer. The core message I at least took out of it is that although it's a nice shit soufflé regardless, it doesn't have to be as annoyingly disgusting as the company talk most big corporates insist on utilizing. They say they want to identify with their customers and that's the last thing they do because formalities and jargon get in between the consumer and the message. True it'll still be junk mail, but something tells me that the response rate will be a hell of a lot more than 3-6%, which is an acceptable rate. Will this be the new dawn of a DM era devoid of bullshit jargon and writing Al Corporato? Not by a long shot. Shitty advertising shall always exist because that's what some clients want. But if you have the chance, the shot, and the balls to do something different, by all means, do it.

Anonymous said...

We'd very much like to reproduce this on the DMA Creative forum blog.

So, I'm going to post the link.

Hope that's OK.