What day is it? It’s Mailbox Monday!
That means I get to open up my inbox and discover YOUR most pressing questions, and answer them here.
Because I know even as you read this that you have a pressing marketing, business, copywriting, or selling question YOU want answered, you should know I will answer it for me if you just send it in to [email protected].
You can get your question answered as little as one week from today, but you have to send it in before you close this email!
On to today’s wonderful question…
How has marketing changed? And how will it change tomorrow?
I know you’re a “dyed in the wool” direct marketer. That your thinking and experience is in line with a lot of the modern masters of direct marketing — especially those who came up in direct mail. And I know the classic thinking on direct marketing is that nothing changes as long as human nature doesn’t change.
Yet, it also seems like things ARE changing. E.g. — social media is very different than other media because prospects are at least somewhat in control of the message and interactions.
You also seem like you’re not completely against change, based on your interest in futurism, technology, AI, and so on.
So I was curious about your perspective on this: how have you seen things changing, and where is direct marketing going next?
I love this question! And I’m looking forward to dive in…
I actually started off by taking some notes, so I could really compose my thoughts and put together an answer that I think will be most valuable to you…
And what I’ve identified is that the best response to this question really breaks out into three categories…
- What doesn’t change…
- What is changing…
- Who will win tomorrow?
And so I’ll work through the natural progression of those three categories.
So let me look into my crystal ball here — tapping into everything I’ve been watching, studying, learning, and thinking — and we’ll look at the past, present, and future of direct marketing.
What doesn’t change…
— Human nature. Like most psychology majors, I got into the field far more interested in my own personal broken nature than actually understanding (much less helping) others. But it turned out to be a very valuable four years. Because understanding human nature is probably as important to effective marketing, selling, and business as any technical/tactical skill you can learn. What motivated people 100 years ago will continue to motivate them 100 years from now. And that timeline extends out farther than we can imagine, both into the past and the future.
— The sales/persuasion process. Using my favorite copywriting formula, here’s roughly how people decide to buy. They realize they have a problem. That problem becomes agitating, until they go in search of solutions. They compare solutions, invalidating option after option until they pick the best one. They purchase that solution. This process can be guided by the marketer or not. It can take place in one sales letter, or over a 52-week email follow up series. It can involve live sales people or be completely automated. It can use high technology, or happen between two people, face-to-face. It’s still roughly the same as it’s always been, and will continue to work in this way into the future.
— The power of an effective selling message. If the above the is process of the decision and sale happening, you can guess that some sales messages are really good at taking people through that process, and others suck. No matter the media, no matter how the market is reached, there will always be more and less effective selling messages at taking the buyer through that process.
— The desire for solutions to problems. Problems don’t go away. Humans seem to be a problem-seeking machine. As soon as we solve one problem, we’re looking for the next. We enjoy solving problems. It’s a gratifying act. Even as we solve one set of problems (say, financial), we manage to find another (fulfillment, for example) that become urgent in our lives.
— The value of an experience. Humans crave experience. We want to use our senses. We want to see, smell, hear, taste, touch, feel things. We want the emotion that comes from being in the middle of things. This has always been a driver, but I think as more and more of our lives become digital, even the feel of going to the mailbox, pulling out a letter, ripping it open, and feeling and smelling it is missing from our lives.
What is changing…
— The lower cost of rich media experiences. Bar-none, this is probable the biggest, most transformative aspect of technology to-date. When the printing press lowered the cost of duplication of information, the masses rose up and became educated. When travel and communications technology connected the globe, international trade flourished. Now, every corner of the globe can be connected, instantly, even via video, and it’s creating an immersive digital experience that makes even the widest physical separation feel much smaller. With this, video, audio, and even VR and tele-presence tech has either become dirt-cheap or will be soon, and your market’s expectations are evolving to prefer or expect this as a way to connect.
— The lower cost of faster connections. This is a bit redundant to the last point, but as connection speed becomes both faster and cheaper (as it has for years and will continue to), the possibilities that emerge are extraordinary. What was impossible a few years ago is commonplace today — what’s impossible today will be everyday within a few years.
— The lower cost of more highly-sophisticated systems. In the direct mail days, just imagine the size, cost, and complexity of setting up a 25-letter follow-up sequence with rich media messages going out alongside text sales letters, all scheduled relative to the prospect’s first contact with your firm. Today, you can get many email service providers that will let you do that (pairing in services like YouTube) for your first few hundred prospects for FREE. Even much, much more sophisticated systems have eliminated media cost, postage, and make very sophisticated funnels and follow-up systems both easy and affordable.
— The transparency of the market. This is very important. It used to be that prospects had very little power to question or research your marketing claims. Or to compare you to competitors. Or to figure out what 100 of your most vocal critics have to say about you. Today, all of that is served up in a fraction of a second, by typing your name into Google. (And as we know, there’s a lot out of there that’s not true — but that will influence the market’s response anyway.) This is maybe the biggest, most influential change of them all. This requires you to act with total integrity — or eventually you’ll be run out of Dodge… And it’s very hard to make information disappear from the internet.
— The speed of change itself. I believe that change will continue to compound, in line with the predictions of Ray Kurzweil and others. That is, it’s going to feel like technology is changing at a more and more rapid pace, as technological advancements beget technological advancements. The technology that’s commonplace in 10 years is today only found in science fiction. This is already causing — and will continue to cause — enormous disruption in work, business, and our everyday life (automation and AI will make as much as 50% of today’s jobs irrelevant within a couple decades if not faster). Which will cause even more social change, as we try to adopt as a society. This already feels like it’s coming fast — it will only continue to come faster.
Which brings us to…
Who will win tomorrow?
— Humans who understand and value humans. As much as I like to talk about technology and how it is changing everything, there is that one fundamental element that remains constant — us. If you can look past the tech, at the humans themselves, you’ll have a HUGE advantage over those who are lost in the latest tech capabilities. Because ultimately, it’s all about the human experience.
— The marketers willing to be radically transparent, vulnerable, human. Since the market has become transparent (and will continue to be more so), those who act with integrity and present their humanity front and center will be naturally attractive. We’ve seen so much of this already. People who are attracted to people who they believe “keep it real.” We want to feel like the people we follow, who we do business with, are people like us. Facades are crumbling, and we’re in desperate search of authenticity.
— People who build systems. If AI and automation and sophisticated technology-driven systems are the way of the future, the people who will win at business are the people who focus on building systems and processes. I identified this a long time ago as a copywriter — creating campaigns was a far higher-value activity than writing a sales letter. Today, creating funnels and running launches are more in demand than simple sales letter or even VSL-writing. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Knowing how to create a dozen or one hundred marketing elements that work together is even more valuable than just being able to create that one powerful centerpiece. This extends into every area of business.
— People who embrace opportunities created by evolving tech. Not every new tech innovation is valuable. But as tech’s big trends open up new opportunities, it pays to be on top of them. So, for example, understanding video marketing today is probably really valuable, because we’ve entered into an era where HD video is easily streamed, instantly, into homes and businesses in nearly every corner of the world. Understanding how to leverage technology that allows you to personalize follow-up systems is potentially a valuable skill for the future. (Just imagine the power of a follow-up system that ONLY gives you the marketing messages you’re most likely to find appealing, and respond to in a positive way!)
— Innovators riding the wave of change. I don’t believe in embracing change for the sake of change. In fact, that is a treacherous path. But if things are changing fast, ignoring the changes that are coming is just as dangerous. Keep an eye in the present, and the other on the future. Watch where things are going, and consider what that means for your market and your business. Be ready to take decisive action as changes become imminent — to really seize the first-mover advantage. Stepping into a new market first automatically makes you the dominant player — these opportunities are becoming more plentiful and powerful by the day.
— People who create experiences. Finally, to remember the human element, let’s not ignore that we humans LOVE experience. We love to be taken on a journey. To follow along with a story. To be led. The varieties of experience we are drawn to and enjoy are plentiful. What makes them compelling are that they allow us to temporarily surrender control, and feel what we want to feel, under the direction of a trusted guide. This has always been a valuable skill — and only continues to be more so in our modern lives.
What do you think?
Did I miss anything big and obvious here? Any other thoughts? Click the comments link below to share your thoughts.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,