Try To Fix It Before You Pitch It

Jan 13, 2017


I was under my desk unplugging my very old sound system, ready to throw it away and buy a new one. The sound quality had recently deteriorated and diminished significantly. Just before yanking the speaker wires from the subwoofer, my inner handy man stopped me—I should probably try checking all the connections before throwing this away, just in case there’s an easy fix to solve the problem. I checked and tightened all the connections, pulled up iTunes, and hit play on one of my favorite Gavin DeGraw tunes and—wait for it—rich, balanced, bass-thumping sound came pumping out of the dusty, twelve-year-old speakers. That little tinkering saved me some serious time and money.

This got me thinking—how often do direct marketing teams decide to abandon ship on campaign strategies too soon, before at least checking for simple fixes? For example, maybe you have amazing creative, but you’re just sending it to the wrong group of customers. Or perhaps you’re talking to them at a time or through a channel that they’re not as likely to be listening to you.

We recently saw this play out at a retailer client of ours. Like many retailers, our client had a retention campaign in place to reengage lapsing customers. The client was unhappy with the campaign’s results and they were about to abandon putting any further resources into the campaign. Before they threw in the towel, we conducted a data study to explore the hypothesis that different groups of customers had different purchase cadences, and should thus have different thresholds for identifying lapsing behavior. The study confirmed our hypothesis and revealed that the most loyal group of customers purchased roughly once a month on average, while another core group of customers purchased closer to every six months. By simply adjusting their list selection rules to take a customer’s typical purchase cadence into consideration, this retailer was able to get their retention campaign back on track.

If your direct marketing doesn’t seem to be performing, here are some things to check (inspired by my recent speaker repair). It’s certainly not exhaustive, and you’ll need to tailor further based on your specific business, but this should get you going in the right direction.


Is your campaign being delivered according to plan? Or is it possible that there have been technical difficulties preventing on-time delivery of campaign items, to some/all of your intended audience? This post from last summer illustrates a great example of the negative impact that can result when there’s a breakdown in the people-processes-technology-data paradigm.


Do you have the right address for your recipients? Is your message getting past spam blockers? And are you communicating in a personalized and engaging way? Keep in mind that you’re often “trying to compete for attention in a very sacred place—your customer’s real email inbox.


Who’s hearing your message? Are they the right people? Is it possible you’re blasting Gavin DeGraw’s funky pop rock to a bunch of classical music connoisseurs? If you’re not already leveraging segmentation to understand your customers and inform your marketing strategy, you should be. Take a look at this post for more on customer segmentation.


Are you sending your message to folks when they’re likely to be listening? Or is it possible that you’re missing the most relevant window of time to communicate with them? Sometimes timing is everything.


Is it possible that customers are responding and you’re just not capturing or reporting their response? What strategies do you have in place to evaluate the performance of your direct marketing campaigns? Test and learn is a crucial part of any direct marketing effort and requires well-designed experiments. For more on test and learn, take a look at this post about the Customer Scientific Method.

So before scrapping the next campaign that isn’t performing as hoped and starting over, embrace your inner MacGyver. Crawl under the desk if you need to! You might just find that there’s a simple fix to address what’s not working.