Pamela Oldham
April 02, 2010

Direct marketing firms have long considered themselves leaders in using data and analytics to understand their customers. However, many have recently bolstered their creative practices by hiring or promoting staffers to top executive-level creative positions.

“It’s not enough just to have this great information,” said David Williams, CEO of Merkle. “The way to monetize that information is to have a bigger impact on a consumer and to change [customer] behavior in a positive way. So, what we were finding is that to make the linkages of intelligence to media creation, we needed a strong executive presence.”

Merkle recently hired Mark Weninger as its first chief creative officer. Before joining the agency, Weninger was managing partner and chief creative officer of the Minneapolis office of OgilvyOne Worldwide. Previously he served as executive creative director at Wunderman/Young & Rubicam, New York. His portfolio shows off work for British Airways, General Electric, FedEx and Starwood Hotels.

For some direct shops, the concept of bolstering their creative services isn’t new. Many agencies – large and small – have included creative services as part of their offerings for years. However, more agencies are placing a higher value on recruiting and retaining top creative executives than they had in the past.

Jerry Bernhart, principal and owner of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, said he was surprised the demand for creatives at direct agencies didn’t happen sooner.

“I think it’s smart what they doing. Today, it’s all about creating customer experience,” he said. He added that at times last year, recruiting creative professionals dominated his schedule. He expects that to continue.

In recent months, companies known primarily for database marketing either recruited or elevated top creative staff members who had built their reputations at world class creative and brand agencies.

Holliston, MA-based Wilde Agency named Nancy Harhut its new chief creative officer in January. She arrived with more than 20 years of experience and had honed her senior creative management skills at Hill Holliday, Mullen and Bronner (now Digitas).

In March, Todd Dexter was promoted to VP of US creative at Carlson Marketing. He joined Carlson in 2006 after building his portfolio at Campbell Mithun Advertising and Martin/Williams.

“I’ve seen in recent years an increasing blurring of the lines — an accelerated convergence of marketing concepts, methods and technologies in addressing complex customer challenges,” said Merkle’s Weninger. “The traditionally separate domains of agencies, consultancies and [service providers] have grown closer together, and these kinds of companies now find themselves vying fiercely for the same client engagements.”

Not all agency executives are convinced the trend is a positive one for the direct industry. Michael Darviche, CMO of Acxiom, said that integrating traditional ad agency and direct or digital service provider specialties is a bad idea. He said his company will reinforce its data, technology and other areas of target marketing instead.

“My feeling is that the service providers are excellent in areas that are just as important – audience management, data and analytics,” he said. “This drives personalization, secure processing, privacy, protection, and overall, being a partner to the client.”

Tri-Win on Facebook and Twitter

By Mindy Charski

Marketing to marketers is not, as you might imagine, always easy. But enterprise marketing software company Neolane ( has done well reaching other marketers since learning that chewing gum helps its message stick.

In advance of last fall’s pro baseball championship, Neolane sent out about 500 baseball-themed mailers to other marketers, touting the benefits of the company’s marketing automation capabilities. “Our real objective was [creating] another touchpoint to be able to create a dialogue, starting with a personal phone call as follow-up,” says Kristin Hambelton, senior director of marketing at Neolane, which caters to corporate marketers in high-tech, retail, entertainment and travel.

Given that its audience is both time-pressed and inundated with any number of other offers, the company decided that a colorful dimensional package with concise messaging was the ideal approach. “I think people are intrigued about opening something,” says Hambelton. “It’s this whole childhood mentality of ‘Oh, I got a little present. I want to open it.’”

The mailer, which Massachusetts-based Neolane created in-house with help from a freelance designer, arrived in a white box with a label that read, “Is your cross-channel marketing ready for the big leagues?” Inside were a pack of bubble gum and four postcards nestled in blue or orange crinkle-cut paper shreds — Neolane’s signature colors.

One card, measuring about 6.5 by 4 inches, featured a personalized greeting and overview from Hambelton along with a link to an online demonstration of the cross-channel marketing software. The other, slightly larger cards contained mini case studies that explained how major corporations have benefited from the software. The cards and a sticker on the gum package included a URL with more detailed versions of the case studies.

Of the 500 mailers sent, Hambelton says, 58 people clicked through to the software demo and 69 to the case studies. Since prospects were already in Neolane’s database, the firm used its own software to track them after the visits and had sales associates call them as the baseball championship series was unfolding. “This achieved our goals in terms of people visiting the Web site [and led to] two accounts moving further along the sales cycle,” she says.

Hambelton says she wasn’t surprised that the mailer worked, as Neolane learned a while ago that audiences respond well to its baseball-themed packages — and the chewing gum in particular.

Of course, other recipients were just as impressed with the message and the overall dimensional package. “You just don’t see it a lot,” says Hambelton, “so I think it makes you stand out.”

Tri-Win on Facebook and Twitter

By Steve Cuno

By the time I finished college, I had worked for three major department store chains. Each claimed to have originated the policy “Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.” They also alleged that naysayers shook their heads at the then-new policy, predicting that widespread public abuse was sure to bankrupt the store in no time. But — cue orchestra and choir — these courageous retail pioneers damned the torpedoes and moved ahead at full speed.

If the folklore is true, history vindicated the fearless pioneers. Today, a satisfaction guarantee is standard for nearly all mail-order marketers and most retail chains. Abuses happen, but resultant increased sales more than compensate. It seems that when stores trust customers, customers trust stores, become loyal and show it by purchasing more.

If the guarantee’s positive outcome surprised naysayers, one thing is clear: Naysayers in those days didn’t spend much time with vampire bats. If they had, they would have learned some valuable lessons about loyalty.

Nature’s rewards programs

As many animal lovers know, vampire bats often feed upon sleeping cattle or other blissfully unaware snoozers. (Incidentally, they don’t drain their victims Dracula-style; they make tiny puncture wounds and lap what seeps out.) They then regroup at headquarters, regurgitate their spoils and share equally. But even bats are subject to greed. Should a successful hunter hoard instead of share, the others notice. Next time that bat experiences a bad hunt, it is excluded from the sharing.

You and I might call the bat behavior a primitive version of “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours; if you don’t scratch my back, I’ll be damned if I’ll scratch yours.” Evolutionary psychologists call it reciprocal altruism, which is shorter and sounds way more intellectual. The trait shows up in most creatures that live in social groups, from wolves to dolphins to chimpanzees. In all of these species, compliance to the “rules” leads to rewards, whereas flouting them can incur penalties. (Vampire bats go easy on miscreants. Chimp punishment sometimes entails biting off parts most creatures prefer to keep.)

Are consumers hard-wired for fairness?

Whatever you want to call this inborn code, it has important implications for marketers hoping to win loyalty from another social animal: humans. If a sense of fairness is innate in so-called lower creatures, then what about people? Is it possible that our own sense of justice runs deeper than what society instills?

Scientific studies of primitive and modern societies indicate that the answer is a strong “Yes!” An inner, tacit understanding of how we should relate to and treat one another appears to come as naturally to humans as talking with our hands.

If that’s true, then a positive response to a marketer who is willing to go out on a limb for customers may not be so surprising after all. Maybe it’s simply natural.

No wonder “satisfaction guaranteed” has become a must for successful direct mail marketing. When you scratch a shopper’s back, it’s natural for the shopper to scratch in return. When a high-end direct mail clothier gives you a no-hassle refund because your outfit “just didn’t look right” — even after you wore it — you’re more inclined to reward them with increased loyalty and purchases. When publishers let you examine the first volume of a continuity series with no obligation, include a gift to keep even if you decide not to purchase, and let you return any book you receive thereafter, you’re more likely to trust them with your credit card number. And when a catalog marketer rewards frequent buyers with free shipping, gifts and privileges, buyers are more likely to repeat behaviors that earn rewards.

Fostering mutual affection

Direct marketers who want to be around for the long haul do well to practice reciprocal altruism. Treating customers morally and ethically, giving them the benefit of the doubt and rewarding them is good business precisely because it resonates with evolved humanity.

The first marketers who placed trust in customers admittedly took a risk. After all, there are greedy people, just as there are greedy bats. What was to keep people from returning perfectly good products and simply claiming dissatisfaction? Or from claiming not to have received a product after the USPS indeed delivered it?

Happily, experience has shown trustworthiness to be an inherent trait in the majority of humans, most of the time.

It bodes well for direct marketing. And for humanity.

Steve Cuno heads the RESPONSE Agency in Salt Lake City. He is the author of the book Prove It Before You Promote It: How to Take the Guesswork Out of Marketing and is a popular convention speaker for the Direct Marketing Association, the American Marketing Association, the James Randi Educational Foundation and others. He can be reached at

Tri-Win on Facebook and Twitter

By Bruce Britt

An author and internationally respected demography expert, Kenneth W. Gronbach has spent years crunching numbers to determine how marketers can reach across generational divides to appeal to the broadest audience possible. But statistical calculations aside, Gronbach says, he finds the clearest proof of what works in a much more familiar place: his family’s mailbox.

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