Reprinted from Strategies newsletter, 4th Quarter © December 2001 by First Marketing, 3300 Gateway Drive, Pompano Beach, FL 33069.

9/11/01 Marketing in the aftermath

“We need to start by admitting we don’t know a damn thing.”

So began the speakers presenting The Aftermath of September 11th: Developments and Adjustments in the DM industry. The session, part of the DMA 84th Annual Conference & Exhibition in Chicago, promised to discuss the impact on the industry as well as provide successful business practices for coping with the aftermath.

The first speaker, Editor of Direct magazine Ray Schultz, stressed that this is unchartered territory. There is no history to guide us.

What we do know, Schultz said, is that September 11 was a catastrophic event that deeply affected businesses of all sorts. In just the first month after the tragedy, for instance, local charities experienced a decline in donations, retailers reported dismal sales, travel and tourism came to a halt and telemarketing ceased.

Unfortunately, this is just the beginning. American commerce will be experiencing the effects of September 11 for a long time to come. In our industry, Schultz predicted direct marketers will spend less on hiring, operations and mail circulation, and more on customer prospecting and customer service.

A new threat

And now, just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, our nation is facing an issue that cuts to the very heart of direct marketing: anthrax. Although the anthrax scare poses a definite threat, Schultz reminded attendees that direct mail is a survivor. Historically, even in the most difficult times, direct mail has found a way to prosper.

So what are direct marketers doing? Schultz cited some proactive steps being taken by leading retailers. Fingerhut, for example, started putting special stickers on its mailings. Bearing the company’s logo, these stickers help Fingerhut customers easily identify their packages. Lands’ End used a different technique. The company e-mailed its customers in advance, telling them when to expect a catalog in the mail.

Real-world reaction

No doubt consumers welcome these measures, but are they necessary? Is the public truly concerned about being exposed to anthrax through the mail? Or does the average American view the problem as being relatively isolated?

The DMA’s Senior Director of Strategic Information, Dr. Michael Turner, shared the results of a recent survey in which 1,000 consumers were asked, “Has the anthrax- in-the-mail scare affected the way you approach your advertising/direct mail?”

  • 58% said they had made no significant changes to the way they handle this mail
  • 14% said they now examine it more closely
  • 24% said they now only open mail from companies that they recognize.

It seems people are still opening their mail. But Turner said direct marketers should take special note of the last statistic. More than ever, we need to build relationships and foster trust with our customers. And, he stressed, the best way to do that is with straightforward, honest communication.

Visit www.the-dma.org for more helpful recommendations to address security issues in your next direct mail campaign.

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