It’s the message, not the medium, even now

I know a guy who knows a guy whose brother is a Google AdWords expert. He has made a good bit of money with the medium, and his business has done very well since picking up this skill. He taught a few tips about AdWords to his brother, whom I know to be a very sharp guy. He has used AdWords to catapult his business to number one in his region. That says a lot for the medium.

It also says a lot – truckloads even – for the message.

This sharp guy tells me that he wants to partner up with my ad agency to put his AdWords skills to use in my clients marketing and advertising plans. “Great,” I say, “Let’s get something going. AdWords would be a great compliment to our other online and print advertising and direct mail services.” The rest of the conversation goes like this:

He says, “Direct mail is dead. You won’t need that anymore.”

“Direct mail is not dead,” I say. “Poor messaging is dead, poorly executed direct mail does not work. Strong messages sell, and direct mail with strong messages gets read and noticed.”

“No,” he says, “Direct mail is dead.”

“How do you know it’s dead?” I ask.

“Well, I get on average about seven pieces of junk mail per day, and I don’t read them,” he says.

“How do you know you get seven pieces?” I ask.

“I go through them every night,” he says.

“So, you are looking at all of this junk mail that you get every day?”

“Yes, but I don’t read any of it,” he says.

“Well, people don’t read poor advertising anymore, and most direct mail is poorly conceived, poorly written, and poorly executed.”

“Exactly,” he confirms.

“So, if the messages in your mailbox were compelling, advertising a product or service that you actually want or need, you would
probably read it, wouldn’t you?”

After a long pause, he says, “Oh, yeah, I would read it then for sure, absolutely. I see your point.”

“I have always believed in an integrated approach to branding and advertising,” I say. “Companies who put all of their eggs in one basket usually find themselves disappointed as they hop from one bandwagon to the next in search of good, consistent results.”

“Yeah,” he says, “That makes a lot of sense.”

Savvy people are quick to jump on new technology and new media, but I find that many of these same people are quick to dismiss tried and true methods that are still extremely effective when done right. They often base their decisions on incorrect assumptions about the tried and true media, which is not all that difficult to do given the plethora of examples of poor branding and advertising to which we are all exposed on a daily basis.

The success of compelling messaging relies heavily on placement and timing. Many companies do their own media buys, often putting their ads in front of the wrong people in the wrong places, or mailing to people who do not fit squarely into their target market. Even people who have not yet mastered AdWords have this problem.

Are there mediums that are dead? Of course there are, but direct mail is not one of them. Direct mail can work extremely well when the company has the right goals for the medium, and when there is a realistic budget for strategy, creative, and copywriting. It is the message, not the medium, that ultimately dictates whether a direct mail advertisement works.

Even Google AdWords success is dependent on excellent messaging. Once people click the ad, the website needs the exact same thing that direct mail needs in order to sell – a compelling message.

Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.


Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.

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