Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Marketing - out of touch?

Like everyone I get loads of junk mail through my letter box in the mail. There is always more of this stuff in newspapers or magazines that I buy.

I throw it all away. I estimate I actually look at 1 in 1000 of these fliers – and that is probably on over estimate on my part!

So my question is:

How come the highly trained and well qualified marketing folks who design these things think it is a good use of the money of a business for it to end up in the waste bin of (I would estimate) 8 out of ten households?

As far as I’m concerned 1 word of mouth recommendation will beat 1000 brightly coloured slick professional fliers dropping through my letterbox.

The best way I ever heard of to deal with junk mail was this method by a work colleague.

He saved all his junk mail for three months. Then he packed it into a large parcel and write on the package – ‘postage to be paid on receipt.’ He sent it to Readers Digest with a handwritten note inside saying: ‘Now you know what it feels like!’

I love that …

Junk mail doesn’t irritate me … I just feel it is a complete waste of time and money and out of touch with what we customers actually want.

We are far more discerning than marketing professionals think.


David said...

One of the largest junk mail printers in the US, Val-Pak, completed a $250 million USD facility earlier this year just outside Tampa, Florida. The technology within the facility allowed them to go from over 12 human touches per piece to around 2 per piece. Their blue envelopes are mailed to most US addresses each month. Advertisers of most products believe 2 orders per 10000 to be a successful return. Advertising yields of $1 REVENUE per $1 advertising cost are not uncommon and marketing leaders of these advertisers tell themselves that this loss leader is ok because a re-order will come down the line. The more likely scenario is that customers clipping these coupons (both of them) are cost conscious flippers, looking for the next best deal. They are neither loyal nor are they, necessarily, low maintenance, with calls to customer service eating away any profits on the deal.

The problem the company leaders face is that they have budgeted dollars tied to new customers. In many instances, alternative channels such as the Internet simply do not have the bandwidth to generate the number of "new customers" required although the yield is much higher per customer.

People do not read the junk mail and leaders are unwilling to go into media buy rehab long enough to stop the insanity.

My wife has gone to in the past week and stopped 92 catalogues from coming to our home! Extraordinary indeed. Cheers Trevor

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks for that David – you have much more knowledge and experience than me regarding marketing - particularly investment versus pay back. Do you see things getting more and more saturated with all this junk mail or will companies become smarter and more focused on potential customers?

As far as I can see the current situation is just non-selective marketing and everybody gets everything. I had sort of assumed improved technology would lead to more selective marketing … I am wrong I think …. I can dream …

92 catalogues!! – That is amazing – your postman will be delighted with your wife’s drastic actions!

David said...

I believe that the best marketing leaders will cut their mass marketing budgets over time but, in many cases, the lag between leaving this medium and picking up customers from a new channel conspires with 2 to 3 year contracts with the direct mailing companies to keep them stuck in their current, ineffective programs. Growth at any cost drives this insanity further with "customer activity" a proxy for real, profitable results and loyal customers for some period of time. An additional challenge is staff turnover which keeps the tough decisions from being made as the next guy comes in before accountability for actions is assured.

Anonymous said...


Junk mail is an interesting topic for you to air in your "simplicity" campaign.

Junk mail is not simple - it is complex. It works because it is complex. Surely whenever we assume complex processes are or "should be" simple we become judgmental, angry, wrong, frustrated, and opinionated(I know this from personal experiences). I have learnt to understand that junk mail has a very important place in our current society (it is on my computer screen every minute of the day as well as in my "snail mail box").

Junk mail is aimed at the "needle in the haystack" - the 1 in 10,000 who actually reads it and THEN spruiks it. They are called "sneezers" - they may start a viral campaign by "word of mouth" simply because they sat down and read a "mail out advertisement".

These advertiser are doing no more nor less than you are doing with this blog - via this blog you promote "simplicity" and it seems you are sneezing it very well. You may well think I promote complexity on my blog - I guess I do and I do it for the same reasons you do what you do here. I do it because I believe we have to understand complexity so as to make our lives better.

Simplicity is a very good thing - so too is complexity. Simplistic evaluation of a complex process is harmful. Excess complexity where simple process will suffice is harmful.

I am coming to believe that marketing in all its forms is a wasteful pursuit - one our world can do without but I am not so "simple minded" that I believe the world cares a tinker's cuss what I think about this subject or any other subjects.

For the world to care about what I think I will have to become a "celebrity" and I am not prepared to do that because the only way to do that is to "junk mail" my image, life, and opinions through every medium and channel there is on the planet.

There are people who are "famous" for being "famous" they are the beneficiaries of "junk mail" in all its forms. This is not a simple matter - it is a complex issue with many aspects to it.

Unknown said...

I suspect people continue sending out junk mail for several reasons, none of them good.

1) They are not creative or courageous enough to think of other ways to achieve their goals. Or even to think that they should possibly think about thinking about other ways.
2) They are ignorant (or dumb) enough to think it actually helps them achieve their goals (perhaps because it used to).
3) They do not directly witness or experience any negative consequences of their actions. In fact, they probably get rewarded for sending out so many.
4) If they do see negative consequences (i.e. sales don't go up, or revenue doesn't exceed costs), they blame the layout and graphics, instead of the actual concept.

In the end, I think they do it because it's easy and because other companies are doing it, and they don't want to get left out.

(notice - I didn't say companies or business send out junk mail, because it's not companies... it's people)

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Richard and Dan – as always I value your comments.

I agree Richard that we are always best judged by what we do through hard work and years of trying rather than remembered for our ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ as a celebrity. I do agree complexity is also a fascinating topic and to understand complexity is an equally useful pursuit as my pursuit of simplicity. I just prefer to reduce things to the understanding of as many people as possible – and in any case I’m not bright enough to study complexity :-)

Dan – we agree as usual. The people who do the mass marketing thing are taking the easy option. It is hard work to find out who to target and people don’t seem to want to work hard. What a total waste of time it is for so many millions of us on the remote chance that 1 in 10,000 might just be interested. That is creativity on a minus 10 score don’t you think?!! Surely to be credible with customers we can be smarter than that in our supposed modern society.

Trevor Gay said...

David - thanks for your feedback on my question about continuing saturation of junk mail.

‘………….stuck in their current, ineffective programs. Growth at any cost drives this insanity further with "customer activity" a proxy for real, profitable results and loyal customers for some period of time.’

I love that - it's a brilliant way of describing this madness!

Lisa Gates said...

If Mass Advertiser A could get a glimpse of my daily routine at the mailbox, they might pause and reflect. I go from the mailbox to the recycling can and open my mail right there. 99 percent junk.

Too bad television ads aren't made of paper...

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Lisa - TV ads is another whole subject. I love the idea of paper TV ads!

Since we got SkyPlus we now record TV programmes with adverts so that we can play them back and skip the adverts! - I just cannot believe the millions of pounds/dollars spent on TV adverts give payback but marketing people will no doubt prove me wrong...

Richard Lipscombe said...


Finally on this topic and the subject of "Simplicity".

Most blogs including "Simplicity" and "Tom Peters" and "Seth Godin" but most especially my own missive on "Clear Space Thinking" are junk mail on the net. Should I get concerned or outraged because I feel all this "junk mail" is clogging up the internet? No! I clog up the internet with my lame stuff on "Clear Space Thinking" but more on that in a moment....

You are advertising yourself and your ideas - nothing wrong with that I say - you are promoting what you think is important and you are getting some serious "feedback loops" going. For example you tell us that on iGoogle "Simplicity" is now in the top ten of results. Congratualations! This is great news for all your products, services, promotions, and ideas.

Let's not fool ourselves here - I write "Clear Space Thinking" not as a blog but as a "junk mail" tool to get my ideas out there. It works! That is why Tom Peters does it and it is why Seth Godin (guru marketer of the digital age) does it - they do it because it works!

I am amazed at the relative speed my "junk mail" missives have propelled me into the iGoogle top ten for my name, clear space thinking (which I invented and therefore have to promote if it is to get anywhere), big boat organisation (which I also invented and promoted), disrupt with purpose (which is now falling off the pace because I do not actively "junk mail" it anymore).

We all "junk mail" and we all do it all the time. We tell each other stories, we repeat slogans/mantras to each other, we speak at conferences, we run workshops, we hold forth at parties, we talk at lot at pubs and clubs, etc. It is all "junk mail" to someone. They can walk away, they can record us and skip through most of it, or they can shut down their antenna - guess what most people do most of that and more.

I have concluded from this blog 1) the "Simplicity" of junk mail is that it works and it works very well 2) my "junk mail" is very very good BUT your "junk mail" is very very ordinary.

As a result of what I have learnt here - I will be trying hard to not hit people with unnecessary amounts of my "junk mail"... I guess that is why I discontinued blogging on Tom Peters site - I was just "junk mailing" there like all the rest who turn up there... and why I will discontinue "junk mailing" on this site.... Thanks for the opportunity to "junk mail" with you all....

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Richard – It’s always good to hear from you and your ‘junk mail’ is always welcome as far as I’m concerned at Simplicity Blog!

We all use our Blogs for different reasons and yes, for me it is an opportunity to offload my thoughts, theories and ideas. If my Blog makes connections for me that is wonderful and I have made many friends all round the world through Simplicity Blog since I started it almost three years ago. There is no way I would have done that without my Blog.

Has Simplicity Blog given me new business? – No

Was that my intention? – No

My Simplicity Blog has only ever been about sharing discussion and hearing from others who are either like minded or who challenge my thinking. Your input always challenges me – and that is brilliant.

Have a great weekend in Oz my friend :-)