In an age of social media and marketing transparency, should direct marketers reconsider some of their tactics? I thought about this recently when I received an immense box measuring 30” x 10” x10” at my office. This was ten times bigger than my average Amazon delivery. The tag line on the box clued me in that this was a promotion: “Set your sights on clear expense management.”
Inside I found a plastic remote controlled toy yacht with the following value proposition: “Give me 15 minutes and I’ll show you how we can help you navigate today’s financial climate. When we meet, I’ll also bring the remote and stand for your new yacht.”
When the rallying cry for corporate marketing is authenticity–and the most valuable currency is useful content–either send me something of value because you want to build goodwill, or skip the bribe and give me a good reason to meet. Sending half a gift and making me work for the other half came across as manipulative and mildly deceptive.
But does it work? In this particular case, I’m probably the wrong guy. I’m not going to play with a remote control boat, give it to my kids, or display it in my office. There’s not enough motivation for me to take the next step to claim that remote control.
Just because I don’t like this program doesn’t mean that it’s not effective. That’s one of the most essential truths for a marketer. No single person makes a good surrogate for an entire market. You can’t assume that everyone thinks and acts like you. It’s the wrong way to make creative and strategic decisions.
Let me prove my point. I showed my new yacht, minus the remote control, to Ken, our Director of Creative Services, and shared my criticisms about the approach. He grinned and told me that we used a similar concept for a technology client and got a fantastic response far exceeding our goal. In the early days of iPod hysteria, we mailed ear buds to qualified prospects, with the proposition that if they scheduled a meeting with a sales rep, they would get the iPod. It was a certified hit. Clearly, there are plenty of people who will bite when the other half of a gift is dangled in front of them.
Also, if the offer is valuable enough people will respond. Would you take a meeting for a computer, airline tickets, a car? The trick is to make the offer just valuable enough to tip the scales for people who might actually buy what you’re selling. The toy yacht didn’t offer enough value for me personally to break down my resistance to a sales presentation. Then again I’m not looking for help to “navigate today’s financial climate,” so no harm no foul.
Given the ability to track online behavior and preferences, this direct mail piece felt like a blunt instrument that was sent without any real knowledge of who I am, or my interests. While it can be a little creepy to be targeted with pinpoint accuracy on the Internet, it can also be a little creepy for people to make assumptions about what toys you like based on general data such as a job title and company demographics. There’s a certain irony that in the age of big data, companies still use a shotgun strategy to try and make a personal connection.
The larger point is that we’re moving away from a business climate where these manipulative marketing efforts will work. Consumers want respect and to be dealt with as individuals. That seldom means bribery.
Sales and marketing have always involved some of the oldest tricks in the book. My recent experience stirred up an old memory of another marketing campaign, which also involved giving away only half the offer. I was a kid when a salesman came to the door and offered to demonstrate an amazing new shoeshine product in a spray can. Without asking, he sprayed one of my shoes and told me that in order for him to finish the job, I had to buy the can. My mother, quickly getting wind of what was going on, chased him down the street and insisted that he shine the other shoe for free.
Don’t mess with the customer.