Al Pacino and direct response marketing

17179001_a697e76604_o1.jpgI’ve recently received several direct response efforts that are unfortunately poor examples of our science and craft.  But they provide some important lessons that we should all take into account when preparing our next campaigns, whether they be acquisition, retention or winback efforts.

The two efforts I’m going to write about appear to suffer from at least one flaw that I try to address with clients and employees.  I call it “fingertips.”

By that, I mean that the nuts and bolts and detail of the marketing effort or analysis need to flow from the written page or the computer monitor through your eyes, be processed by your brain and then exit via your fingertips to the email, instant message, Excel spreadsheet, etc.  It’s not about forwarding the print production schedule you get from your printer or assigning the analysis of the media plan to your least-experienced employee because it’s tedious.  Having “fingertips” means you know the detail because you’ve not only seen it, but processed it and then had it exit via your keyboard.

I didn’t see the “fingertips” of the marketing managers in these efforts.  Al Pacino, in his famous rant at Kevin Spacey in the movie  Glengarry Glen Ross would have put it more bluntly.

“Where did you learn your trade?”
The problems I’ve identified by these marketers–Verizon and Vonage–are all very basic and things that, with a bit of training, would have been easy to avoid and would have saved those organizations tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Verizon and the FiOS data debaclePhone company wires

My first example, using Verizon, is that of a two-part mistake.  The first part is not understanding your data and the shortcomings of it.  The second is a merge/purge mixup.

I’ve been waiting for Verizon’s FiOS triple play bundle to arrive in my neighborhood for over a year.  I wanted to consolidate my data, TV and phone service with one company and have heard nothing but rave reviews about FiOS from everyone I know who’ve made the switch.  So you can imagine my glee, when on November 20, 2007 I was door-hangared announcing the availability in my neighborhood.  I immediately called to place an order and arranged an installation date of December 7, 2007.

Everything went well, including the transfer of our home number from Vonage (more to come on this later) VOIP service to Verizon’s product  At the end of the install, I had a 15/2 Internet connection, 2 standard definition TVs, 1 HD TV with DVR and my home phone number ported over from Vonage to Verizon.  All working flawlessly and installed by a thorough and very pleasant technician.

In early January, I paid a bill for my triple play service.

For some reason, on January 25th, I received a 9″ x 12″ matched mailing from a Thomas M. Crowder at Verizon offering me, a FiOS TV subscriber, the option of adding FiOS Internet and getting a month free of service.  Nice offer, except I’ve been happily using FiOS Internet service for over a month.  The mailing was a complete and utter waste of money and it should never have hit my home.

Verizon’s databases are a mess.  (If you’re in doubt, I suggest you spend a few minutes traversing their website.  It’s clear to me that the FiOS business is at least three business units hammered together, and it’s clear they’re not talking to each other.)  But if the marketers responsible for this campaign at Verizon had good “fingertips”, they would realize this and understand the risks to their campaigns.  Namely, that the wrong efforts would be going to the wrong people at the wrong time.

How could Verizon have avoided mailing me–and many, many others–an expensive promotion that will always yield 0% response to my segment?

  1. When in doubt add more suppression files.  Had the people running this FiOS Internet campaign simply understood that it was likely that some FiOS TV customers were not showing up on their records as having the double-play product, they could have added FiOS TV only customers as a suppression.  I would have showed up as a suppress on any of these.  Of course, maybe the customer databases are really in bad shape.  Then, doing the following is an extra catch;
  2. Suppress paying customers. If your marketing database is separate from your transactional records, grab a suppression from the transactional system and suppress people that have paid for the product.  While you’re at it, look at the merge output and, if you notice discrepancies, get your IT folks and DBAs in pronto.

Alas, Verizon is not alone in their direct response campaign challenges.  Vonage has winback problems of their own.Vonage VOIP phone
Vonage and the print production processThis one is less of a really basic marketing sin (targeting the wrong people for the wrong product at the wrong time) as one of marketing process.

During the process of moving to Verizon, I ended up having to cancel my Vonage VOIP service.  The first thing that happened was on December 7th, Verizon ported my number from Vonage to them.  That means that since December 7th, Vonage knew I was no longer receiving phone calls using their service.

I actually called to cancel Vonage on December 12th and, after enduring a Vincent Ferrarri-like experience with the retention sales consultant, completed the transaction.

I received the predictable win-back efforts via email on December 20th and via direct mail on January 10th.

Yet on January 26th, I received a piece offering me (as a customer) free service if I recommended Vonage to a friend.  One of three things happened here:

  1. This is a test they intentionally mailed me.  In which case, it’s a case of somebody simply not paying attention to the segmentation.  (After all, why would a non-customer talk a friend into buying a product that I haven’t used for almost 50 days, with the reward being a free month of a product that I can’t use?).
  2. Vonage’s print production process is too long. If I assume a drop date of around January 16th, this tells me that Vonage had around 34-39 calendar days to produce the direct mail I received (a 5″ x 9″ window envelope, with a personalized tri-fold piece with tip-ons) after they knew I cancelled. That’s much too long for that piece, even in volume.
  3. The suppression file was incorrect.  It’s possible, as with Verizon, that they didn’t suppress the right names.  A simple add to all of Vonage’s merge/purge processes of the LNP (local number portability) change requests as a suppression file might have cut me out of this wasteful mailing.

Summary and takeaways
Make sure you’ve got people that understand the details of how all your marketing efforts run.  Make sure they understand their craft and are not at the mercy of their agencies or vendors for information and understanding of how their campaigns work.

For example, if your marketing manager can’t tell you how a merge/purge or name selection process works, including being able to justify every word in the merge instructions or can’t explain the details of the production capabilities of your lettershop vendor, I guarantee you’re promoting to the wrong people and/or taking too long to do so.

Other quick thoughts:

  1. Over-suppress names in your merge process.  You can always add back those names if it turns out you were too tight.
  2. Assume your product databases are out of sync and act accordingly when selecting names for promotion. Further, your transactional and marketing databases, if kept separate, will tell you two different stories.  Look for discrepancies between the two, which will not only give you opportunities to save money, but also find new leads to promote and even new product ideas.

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