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How to sell via DRTV

Over the last two decades I’ve helped hundreds of major brands navigate the wonderful (and sometimes seedy and terrifying) world of direct response television. It’s always exciting to see quality companies come into the industry with innovative products and ideas, but equally distressing to see many of these great brands fail miserably with their television consumer direct strategies.  Despite my and many other expert’s best consul and efforts, a large percentage of the Fortune 500’s DRTV efforts are failures.  And most disturbing is the fact that they fail because they continue to make the same errors that could be easily avoided.  Here are a few of the most common mistakes I see brand marketers make when they expand into DRTV:

•    Utilize their brand agency to orchestrate their DRTV campaign.  This is akin to having your dentist perform foot surgery.  Brand agencies not only don’t understand how DRTV works, but by their very nature they are opposed to it.  A DRTV campaign requires specialized creative, data-base driven media buying and tracking, and backend management.

•    Know your objective.  What is the goal of your campaign – and how will you judge its success?  Many clients enter the industry without a clear vision of what they want to achieve, and consequently never know if they are successful.

•    The consultant conundrum.  Companies new to DRTV often seek the assistance of consultants to lead them through the new and strange territory.  On paper this seems like a good idea, but in practice it often leads to failure.  Unfortunately, while there are a handful of experienced experts that can be of great assistance, many of the so-called DRTV experts selling themselves as consultants have not been active in the business for years, and have very limited hands-on experience.  The DRTV business is incredibly dynamic and changes on a monthly basis, so if your consultant’s most recent credentials are more than a year old, they are probably out of touch with the industry. Also, it is quite common to claim unjustified credit for successes.  If you elect to use a consultant, check them out in-depth to make sure they are current in the industry and that their stated credentials are real.  Make sure you know how they are compensated.  A consultant that takes “referral fees” from vendors might not have your best interests at heart.  And if you choose the right agency, chances are that you won’t need a consultant. 

•    Utilize brand research to make DRTV decisions.  Traditional brand clients frequently want to fall back to their brand research to make creative and strategic decisions regarding their DRTV efforts.  While product and demographic research can be helpful in constructing offers and the product pitch, it is unfortunately largely useless as a predictor of success in DRTV.  A focus group environment does not equate to grabbing a channel-surfing consumer and enticing them to buy.  There is no replacement for live on air testing.  It there were, the product marketing companies that make their living via DRTV would have adopted these methods instead of the tried and true method of on air testing.

•    Back-end mismanagement.  Proper telemarketing, web, and customer service management, and fast and accurate reporting from all response channels (including retail sell-through), are essential to a successful campaign.  Yet a high percentage of brand clients insist on using their in-house resources that typically cannot handle the spikes and peculiarities of the DRTV consumer. Your media agency needs fast and accurate response data to optimize your media, and if you can’t provide it you are wasting money.

•    Analysis Paralysis.  I have seen many great companies with products very appropriate for DRTV fail in the format because of their internal bureaucracy.  Sometimes they are even enormously successful during the test, but never roll out due to internal issues.  DRTV is a fast paced marketing channel that involves testing and changing to optimize the campaign.  If your corporate structure does not allow for a bit of internal entrepreneurship, then the format might not be appropriate for your company.

•    Spend based on success – not on budget.  The beauty of DRTV is in the immediate response and data.  When successful marketers hit response goals, they keep on spending as long as they stay within target.  They would never establish a fixed budget that would be too much if they were unsuccessful and too little if they have a hit.

Working with the right resources and really heeding their advice assures that you won’t make the above mistakes.  The beauty of DRTV is its accountability, and when properly set-up and orchestrated everyone is incentivized to make the client successful. 

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