Thursday, January 14, 2010

Building & Maintaining Relationships Through Direct Marketing

In order to keep my marketing skills sharp, and because I am just generally interested in the topic of marketing, I try to read books, blogs, and news stories on the subject whenever possible. It keeps me busy and helps me to view things through a marketing lens. Currently, I am reading a book on direct marketing which I discovered in a pile of giveaways at school in the late summer. Due to my current reading material, I imagine several of my upcoming posts will center around this subject, as I will be thinking of experiences I have had with this specific type of marketing.

As I began reading this material I thought back to a few examples of direct marketing that I'd like to share. Two of them involve birthdays, and the other my preparation for the future.

For many years, my mom has been a Pontiac owner. I remember the day she brought home her brand new blue 1988 Grand Am. My older and brother and I had a great time climbing through it for the first time; discovering and opening each of the compartments as if they were secret. I cannot remember what she owned before that vehicle, but ever since it has been Pontiac - at least two more Grand AMs, a Transport, and a Grand Prix. And, if the Pontiac line hadn't been cut, she would have been a lifetime customer without question.

My mom likes everything about Pontiacs. But, what came to mind for me when thinking about direct marketing is something which she mentions all the time, and has nothing to do with the performance or aesthetics of the vehicles. She tells me that the first birthday card she gets each year is from her Pontiac dealer. Each and every year before any friend or relative can wish her a happy birthday, she opens a card in the mail from her Pontiac salesman. This direct marketing tactic can be very effective. Not only does it allow the dealer to keep in touch with their past customers and stay on their minds for future deals; it also allows for a human touch to the marketing piece. It gives the impression of a more personal relationship with the customer than just buying a car. Some may think that this kind of thing is not a big deal (in fact, some recipients of the birthday cards may overlook it as well), but for my mom - and many others, I'm sure - this gesture means something. Like I mentioned before, my mom would have been a Pontiac customer for life. Of course, she had to like the vehicle she bought, be confident in its quality, and happy with the deal she made when purchasing it. But, I can't help but think that the birthday card, if only in some small way, played a part in her being so loyal to not only Pontiac, but to the specific dealership she went to when it was time to buy a new car.

My brother actually has a similar story to share with regard to his State Farm agent. He too receives a birthday card every year. In most cases, insurance is something you only deal with when you have to. How many people speak to their agent unless they need something? However, this agent is taking important steps in fostering lifetime customer loyalty because his customers can feel like they have more of a relationship with him. He doesn't only come around when times are bad. The agent is establishing this connection absent of any kind of immediate need (i.e. a claim to file when something like a car accident or fire occurs). So, because he feels like a valued customer at State Farm, how likely do you think he would be to consider switching to another provider? Not very likely, I would guess. And, even if he is offered a better deal somewhere else, he most likely feels comfortable actually discussing his rate with his agent now before he decides to switch, giving his agent a chance to keep the relationship. And relationships are a big part of what direct marketing is all about.

The issue of relationships (establishing, nurturing, and keeping them) is what brings me to my last example where I act as the direct marketer, in a way, to market my product - Me. I am currently in the market for a new job, and while I am applying at many places and networking wherever I can, professional jobs are pretty scarce right now. A while back, I found a marketing position at a new company with a good business plan and applied.

I was interviewed and things were going well. Ultimately, they were not able to provide me with what I was requiring of an employer at the time because they were such a young company. Certain things were just not put in place yet. Although I was unable to accept a position with them at the time, I told the manager that I really liked their company and what they brought to the marketplace, and that I would like to keep in touch if things were to change on the future. After all, I thought that the company would find great success in the future, and would like to consider being a part of its continued growth a little further down the line.

I did keep in touch with their dealings through their website and through professional networking online, and contacted them again several times to follow up. I spoke to a new manager in the marketing area a few times on the phone, and even came in to visit with the company's owner for a while. Things went well, and there has been some talk between us of developing a position within the company where I could be of great use. While nothing concrete has happened yet, had I not been willing to continue to remind them of who I am and what I have to offer, they may very well forget me when hiring new talent. The relationship I am nurturing may lead to something great for me in the near future. If it happens, it will be because of direct marketing.