I carefully chose the phrase, direct mail, rather than “direct commerce”, in part to make the point that the difference between these two is growing.
Personally, I’m certainly from the paper mail generation. But I’m also an early adopter of new technology, so I have all the latest gadgets (or at least, some of them) and I often prefer electronic mail to paper mail — even for invoices and bills. I send fewer paper greeting cards and more and more electronic greeting cards. But I still enjoy getting paper catalogs and flipping thru them. That still seems more natural than browsing an on-line store.
But I’m unconvinced my grandchildren will continue these habits.
As a result, I wonder how direct marketers should be modifying their marketing channels based upon the demographics of prospective buyers.
Teenagers must still often be reached via mail, because they have to “sell” their merchandise preferences to parents who may not be as technologically astute as they are. And this may stretch thru the college years, as well, up until young adults become truly independent of their parents.
But at what point is that transition complete? When should you start trying to reach customer more exclusively on-line and via email?
And perhaps even more difficult, is how to market new merchandise to previous buyers. Less of a problem if your SKU base is small. But if you have a large SKU base, how do you select the SKUs / styles / products to highlight in your electronic promotions?
That’s the inherent conflict between electronic promotions (which need to be more narrowly focused) and paper-based promotions (which may be more broadly inclusive). Electronically, we can only highligt a few products and hope we hit the right button, or the customer decides to proceed to browsing. On paper, we have to pick the cover and high visibility pages, but we can sell multiple items on multiple pages — a much wider margin for errors in judgement without leading to poor results.
Remember, a web store is still more of a buying channel, than a shopping channel. And email is easily and often ignored.
There is movement in the list industry towards appending email addresses to buying history, just as we have paper mail addresses with buying history. This is a very important trend, but we have a long way to go.
One conflict between good email targeting and “privacy” is that, in response to privacy concerns, we have “self-regulated” our industry into a box where email addresses are never shared, so our customers get blasted by junk email at a level that’s even worse than the junk paper mail they complained about for so many years.
As an industry, we need to make sure we’re as diligent about collecting email addresses as we used to be about collecting paper mail addresses — and we need them linked to each other.
And frankly, I suspect new technology devices will make it as easy to truly shop at a web store as it is to browse thru a retail store or flip thru the pages of a paper catalog.
Time will tell. But isn’t if fun to speculate!!