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Net Marketers Can Learn From Direct Marketers

_As President of Wiest & Associates Inc. – “The Customer Acquisition and Retention Company”: (r) – Daniel G. Wiest has long been considered one of Canada’s leading direct marketers, and now one of Internet marketing’s innovators._
*One Degree:* “What skills or techniques from the direct marketing world do you think are most lacking in Internet marketing and what do we lose by not having them in our online tool kits?”
*Dan Wiest:* I apologize in advance if this response rubs a few readers the wrong way, but please scan my entire answer before deciding how loudly to cheer or jeer. In return, I promise not to sound too much like my grandfather’s “when I was your age…” ramblings in the process.
One big shortcoming I see too frequently is the absence of leveraging that core knowledge we’ve already gained from offline testing. I’m not saying that pure Internet marketers don’t generate rich information and insights. Quite the opposite. In fact, I think we’re kicking the pants off of the traditional media holdouts with the wealth of actionable data we’re able to produce. And we’ve become the masters (sometimes…) at turning that information around to produce even more relevant communications and offerings.
But the preceding decades have rewarded us with vast resources of test results, analytics and careful study of the factors that motivate people. Somehow these historical treasures seem to have gotten pushed aside in the excitement surrounding all of the new tools and techniques.
Forget about the new tools for a moment, and consider this: I don’t imagine for one second that human needs and wants were somehow genetically altered by the arrival of the Internet. Yes, the techniques and media options for matching and delivering solutions those human needs may have changed dramatically. But human behaviour itself hasn’t. So why not begin with the knowledge of what consumers have already been proven to respond to?

In defense of the pure online guys, they’re masters at testing things like e-mail subject lines, clickthrough stats on content and time spent navigating specific pages. And this stuff is absolutely wondrous and critical to advancing direct marketing.
But do they truly understand _why_ some of that stuff is working? And could they have started with a stronger proposition in the first place if they were working from a strategic approach that was grounded in offline learning?
Allow me to roll back the clock for a moment. I suspect many online newbies may never have read John Caples’ “Tested Advertising Methods.” Perhaps _you_ are even saying who the heck _is_ John Caples? Caples was BBDO’s creative director for years. He also happened to start his career in the 1920’s and published this book in 1932. It may calm your ancient fears to know that this book’s been in print almost continuously since that time, and Caples was even elected to the Copywriter’s Hall of Fame in 1973, and the Advertising Hall of Fame in 1977.
Why bother reading a book from 1932? Because Caples was not only a brilliant writer, but he also happened to invent many of the techniques that we use today for split creative testing. This book is still holding up as a direct marketing copywriter’s bible of testing wisdom. Caples doesn’t just analyze _what_ works, but he always matches those quantitative results up with _why_ it works. Are the examples used in the book outdated? They’re painfully outdated. But the analysis behind those examples is more astute than most direct marketing copy tutorials I’ve seen published since.
If you’re still hanging in there, now I’ll raise another toast to the strictly-online guys. I never wish to discount the experience of those who only have the benefit of learning from digital executions – they have absolutely moved direct marketing forward by leaps and bounds.
All I’d like to do is save them from having to re-discover what’s been fine tuned for them already.
What are we losing by sometimes lacking this historical knowledge in our tool kit? Lots.
Pure online folks might be able to start their construction of campaigns at a strategic level of understanding _what_ is likely to generate a response, as well as _why_ it’s likely to motivate.
This understanding obviously helps improve initial response metrics. But I think it also makes you lots smarter about your post-campaign analysis of why particular elements of a campaign worked; and how to take advantage of those findings.
I also think that online marketers might be a lot tougher on themselves if they had the benefit of direct marketing media training and analysis.
Parting shots:
I’m excited about the possibility of Internet marketers taking greater advantage of this knowledgebase from the offline world. The Internet marketers can leverage that learning far more than the traditional marketers were ever able to.
That’s going to make our business more enriching for marketers. And more enriching for our prospects and customers.