Direct Marketing Association Hall of Fame Members Charles D. Morgan, former CEO of Acxiom Corp., Martin Edelston, chairman of Boardroom Inc. and Bottom Line Publications, and Thomas J. “Tim” Litle, chairman of Litle & Co., have all been through market turmoil — and survived to tell us about it. We spoke with them about how they did it.
Q: What lessons from previous downturns do marketers need to remember now?
Charles D. Morgan: They should consider whether they’re going to look at a downturn as an opportunity or a tragedy. At Acxiom, we had huge spurts in the 1970s recession and after the Gulf War in 1991 because we were looking for opportunities to grow our business as the world changed around us. For example, in the early ’90s, we very rapidly built up at a time when our competitors were pulling back.
Martin Edelston: If you can’t afford to do things on a large scale, do them incrementally. In the process of putting together a mail campaign, I saw that the list for a major business publication was a good one for our purposes, but I never could afford to take a big hunk of it. So, instead, I mailed every week to 25,000 names, and we worked our way through the list.
Thomas J. “Tim” Litle: You’ve got to find new ways to reach customers, through multiple channels, and keep on top of new media. Direct mail is going to be one of the marketing techniques that will survive, but it’s just part of the marketing arsenal, and has to be used with other tools. For example, if a traditional retailer doesn’t buy into an Internet presence or some sort of a catalog presence, I don’t know how they will survive.
Q. Why is direct mail an effective tool during difficult economic times?
CDM: Typically, there’s a lot less competition in the mail, and that’s even truer now that people are cutting their spending. So, if you are in the mail and all your competitors aren’t, then you’re going to get a lot more readership, and a lot more of your stuff is going to be opened and acted on. And, clearly, mail is still effective; otherwise, people wouldn’t use it at all.
ME: With mail, you have a really good idea of whom your pieces are going to, as well as who has bought from you in the past. If you’re testing your lists, your copy and your mailers, you can manage these programs very precisely and only mail to the best parts of the list where you know you can make money.
TJL: With direct marketing, you can be much more flexible in your campaigns and adjust the size and cost, including being more precise about whom you’re mailing to, and still know that some lists are going to return at a certain rate. Even if demand is off overall, these lists still work, and they allow you to adjust to the level of your resources very quickly.
Q. What is the one thing any marketer can do to make a program more effective?
CDM: Be realistic and aware of your available capital to get through the downturn. Don’t make the mistake of getting too aggressive and spending so much money that you can’t have a sustained effort. We’ve had a really long downturn now, and the people hurting the worst are the ones who’ve run out of resources to continue to try to explore the opportunities that are around.
ME: Know your business. We’ve set up exchanges with other mailers, where we send to each other’s lists to get new names. That’s the name of the game — always adding new names. I do anything I can to avoid being stagnant, test to see what’s working and extend our reach. Preparing ahead is helping me get through this downturn — and be ready for the next one.
TJL: Integrate all kinds of marketing techniques. Direct mail will survive in that mix, but you have to learn how to make multichannel marketing work by trying different vehicles and combinations. If you stick to just one medium and don’t use other channels that are appropriate for your business, it’s going to be hard to survive.Large Business, Medium Business, Opinion, Recession Marketing, Small Business