In Direct Marketing, is Ignorance Bliss?

May 5th, 2008 by Bob Bly

In today’s issue of BtoB (5/5/08, p. 24), American Business Media — an association for business publishers — ran a full-page ad with this headline:

“In the Harsh Conditions of the Business World, the Neophyte Quickly Learns There is No Camouflage for Lack of Knowledge.”

I wish it were true, but it seems to me that in direct marketing, lack of knowledge is not much of an impediment for aspiring executives today.

Every day, I hear from neophyte direct marketers who, it is revealed within the first 2 minutes of our phone conversation, are totally lacking in any knowledge of direct marketing fundamentals.

For example, one B2B marcom manager I talked to didn’t know what a list broker is or what I meant by a list “select.” Another had never heard of RFM (recency, frequency, monetary).

Yet they have managed to rise to relatively high levels, which means either that the BOSS doen’t care that the employee is ignorant of DM fundamentals — or (shudder) that the boss doesn’t know them, either.

Even worse: many of these relative DM neophytes express little curiosity about or interest in learning the rules of direct marketing — even those that are actively using it.

They often hint to me that the Internet has changed all the rules (David Meerman Scott has written a book to that effect, “The New Rules of Marketing and PR”) — and therefore things like statistical test validity, A/B splits, response rates, sales leads, and copywriting no longer matter or apply.

Are they right? Wrong? Or does the answer lie somewhere in the middle?

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7 responses about “In Direct Marketing, is Ignorance Bliss?”

  1. Ted Grigg said:

    This lack of professionalism permeates large businesses in the US today. Not just the direct marketing field.

    I fear that the turmoil of frequent layoffs and frenzied merger activity prompting layoffs have finally come to roast.

    What’s left are the bureaucratic types without imagination or a fever for learning. Businesses attract these types like flies.

    So the left over managers in some companies propagate themselves with people they think preserve the status quo and don’t make waves.

    This is great for peace, but does little to build businesses. The bold and fearless seem to last less than a year in today’s large business environments.

    Today, “Go West Young Man” now means “Go Into Business For Yourself.” And that is happening by the thousands. I think small businesses offer real hope for the future of both direct marketing and the business environment in general.

  2. Craig Hysell said:

    I’m a neophyte copywriter (3 years in) and I find it hard to convince the small businesses I work for to keep track of response rates, use splits or even pay for copy.

    Response rates, sales leads and good, EFFECTIVE copy are more important than ever in the online world. What are there now, 126M websites competing for people’s attention?

    AND since I had a long day and the subject has me a bit fired up I’ll throw this quote in from the April 21st edition of FORBES:

    “Brian Featherstonhaugh, chief executive of OgilvyOne Worldwide,… believes the ‘storytellers’ are about to find themselves in a Golden Age. ‘Distribution is highly fragmented with this huge proliferation of new channels and media we’ve seen. WE’RE WAKING UP TO THE FACT THAT WE NEED TO SEND SOMETHING INTERESTING DOWN ALL THESE PIPES.’”

    I am an information fiend for two reasons: 1. I want to give my client the best product I can. 2. Ignorance deters greater success.

    Thanks for bearing with me. Cheers. :)

  3. David Meerman Scott said:

    Hey Bob,

    To be successful with any offline marketing effort, you need to understand the skills required to pull it off. DM has skills as does creating TV commercials.

    My ideas on “the new rules” are not suggesting that “the web changes everything”. Great DM is still great DM for all the reasons that you are so skilled at.

    However to be successful on the web, you need new thinking. The web is not about buying lists. Instead it is about publishing great content (blogs, video, facebook, and so on).

  4. Troy Bingham said:

    I find that it is typically a top down impediment. It is not taught in a class room and most managers don’t know it. So, people often find themselves in the right place in the right time and get promoted without knowing the basics to perform in the same roll in another company

  5. Suzanne Obermire said:

    I like to put a slightly different spin on this topic–the web may have changed marketing in a big way, but this only means that online marketers need to understand direct marketing basics to really be effective. I absolutely believe that when direct marketers in all channels have a backbone of knowledge, they’ll see better results. We’re seeing online marketers get into segmentation, scoring, sophisticated testing, etc. etc–all things that your traditional direct marketer is an expert in.

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