Get with the disruption program: Move from mass marketing to direct marketing

Jim Hart
Jim Hart

I think we’re going on roughly 24 years of trying to figure out this internet thing and what we should do about it. Being the incumbent market share leader in the face of massive disruption is never easy. Clayton Christianson, in “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” pretty much nailed it when he said you get stuck in the “success trap.”

For the industry, you are often faced with the market abandoning “coin of the realm” metrics and concepts. Those things you touted as measures of the value you represent in the marketplace. For those in mass media, that could include cost per thousand, cost per inch, reach (at least in the way we used it), impressions and other metrics.

Personally, we were faced with going from being the wise sage with 10, 20, even 30 years of experience and knowledge to being essentially clueless. And growing more so every time another new capability comes along, which is pretty much weekly or, it sometimes seems, daily.

For full disclosure, my epiphany on direct marketing came in 1993. I knew things were changing and I had an amazing book dropped in my lap at just the right time. Going on three years ago, I dropped the other shoe. My son and I formed a marketing agency and have progressively moved our attention there. This year it should be right on par with my best years working directly with newspapers. In short, we’ve made the transition you are trying to make, albeit on a much smaller scale.

We are Certified Partners with an amazing company known as Digital Marketer. There are about 800 of us spread across the globe. They estimate there are approximately 100,000 entities in the U.S. alone that call themselves a digital agency of some sort. We met with 6,500 of them in February where we shared approaches to positioning and building a successful agency.

Your best prospects will be those businesses that are already demonstrating a decent level of sophistication. Take plumbers, for example. Google them in the geography where they do business. The people buying Google Adwords AND driving traffic to a landing page that is set up to convert are your best prospects. The people in the three-pack are doing something right and the better organic performers are also worth a conversation. You can have an intelligent conversation with these folks that’s not rooted in teaching or desperation. Your sales activities can’t be rooted in convincing people they need to do something.

Don’t get me wrong, we have a basic local package just like most of you. Directories/citations, reviews, some GMB (Google My Business) love and maybe another thing or two. Priced at $300 to $500 a month, maybe. We have a couple of dozen of these that we accumulated while we were getting going. They are never going to be the basis for our business and we now structure our marketing to minimize our direct contact with them as prospects. We only want to work with clients that either have the platform to convert traffic into sales or leads, or they want us to build it for them.

The more advanced businesses I mentioned above have a platform in place that’s worthy of driving traffic to, the ability to engage beyond an online brochure and, hopefully, the mechanisms to capture and convert leads. At the very least, they get this and are ready for a different discussion.

They are willing to step up to the traffic store and buy some traffic. This is where the conversation needs to move from cost per impression and reach to cost per action or cost per conversion. You can engage them, but not in a conversation rooted in mass marketing metrics. They are past that.

The black hole I see in newspaper sales is the basic local package described above plus banner impressions. Selling this to someone that does not have the mechanics in place to convert traffic into engaged leads is akin to burning their money. The local package will help them get found online over time, but it’s a painfully slow way to drive traffic. Procter and Gamble and Ford may be willing to buy eyeballs and impressions (not like they used to) but they have no place in helping ill-equipped small businesses see an ROI from their marketing spend.

I have subscribed to my local metro daily and a few decent weeklies in my town for the past couple of years. Mostly to look for local prospects who are spending money but could use some help.

I’ve been looking for people using ROP the way you would use paid digital. A call to action that drives interested parties to a landing page designed to engage them. Followed by either retargeting or lead capture of some kind. I mean, how many people are going to go from a cold ad selling 20-acre ranches, or cosmetic dentistry to calling a human being on the phone to get sold? Very, very, very few. Putting the url of the home page in these ads fails on 2 levels. Prospects land on a page that likely says nothing about the call to action they just saw and there’s no tracking, retargeting or attribution based on what brought them to the website.

From a direct or digital marketing perspective, this is a complete fail on every level. You wouldn’t spend money on Google Adwords to drive traffic to a homepage that isn’t focused on the search that generated the click, right? Immediate bounce, followed by terrible relevance, increased CPC, then you disappear regardless of your bid.

In those two-plus years I have yet to see a single ROP ad designed to send online traffic to a specific landing page. Not a single solitary one. Mass impressions that only get credit for driving people from offline awareness to offline purchase in the next few days. Hey, 1990 called and they want their ROP strategy back. Few buying cycles work like this. Plus, failing to get attribution for the traffic tanks the ability to demonstrate ROP’s ability to generate awareness and interest and sales down the line.

How can we be this far into this and still be selling ROP ads that are not set up to perform as part of the “traffic store”? Setting up ROP for offline-online-offline strategies is your unique leverage if you use it. None of those other agencies are going to invite you to the traffic store.

Newspaper direct marketing strategist Jim Hart is a partner in Phoenix-based DM for Newspapers ( and a partner at Integrated Advertising Solutions. He can be reached at