Thursday, June 12, 2008

Interview with Drayton Bird

I've mentioned Drayton Bird a few times on my blog. Drayton is one of a few individuals that most influenced my thinking in my marketing career.

For anybody not familiar with Mr Bird, he is best-known for his massive contribution to the discipline of Direct Marketing.

Let me give you an idea of scale here. A few years ago, I read an article in Precision Marketing, naming him as the person who has made the biggest contribution to direct marketing in the previous 15 years.

Campaign Magazine also named him one of the 50 most important individuals in UK advertising during the previous 25 years – "the only universally acknowledged point of creativity in the direct marketing world”.

So I am very grateful that he took some time out of this day to answer a few short questions for my blog....

Me: What is the single biggest change you noticed in direct marketing industry in the past 15-20 years?

Drayton: More people are doing it, less well.

Here are some of the things that have had significant effect on the marketing industry over the last four decades:
  • The computer and particularly the speed with which data is available.
  • Databases. Now all organisations want databases because they realise the value they hold. They have seen how easy it is to capture data via a website.
  • Direct marketing attracting more investment than general advertising
  • Personalisation and customisation has allowed more relevant communications to be produced.
  • The decline in educational standards, especially literacy and numeracy
  • The internet
  • The way in which the idea of the brand has come to seem important, even to people who have nothing to do with marketing – and who misunderstand it
  • Inflation, especially in media costs, where it has far outpaced general inflation, leading people to seek new ways of marketing
  • The greater desire for individual expression, frustrated by the move among those in power towards ever more centralisation. This mirrors what has happened in politics – e.g. the European Union.
  • Compliance – and the obfuscation of language in the pursuit of covering the corporate rump.
  • Changes in attitudes to sex – greater openness, particularly in advertising imagery.
  • The increasing use of marketing techniques – usually badly and often dishonestly applied – by government.
Me: There seems to be a blur between direct marketing, ATL advertising and digital marketing. Do you find this?

Drayton: Yes there is. This is a good thing. This is not a difficult business to master and people should be able to understand and practice all three, since customers switch happily between them. Customers and their motivations do not change even if the media do. Actually as I point out in the new edition of Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, the word “digital” is a misnomer. We have digital TV and radio, but marketers don’t think of them as digital.

Me: Is the future of direct marketing looking bright?

Drayton: Yes. My former colleague Shelley Lazarus, now CEO of Ogilvy Worldwide said at the DMA conference not long ago that today, all marketing is direct. This is because of the internet, which is accelerated direct marketing.

Me: What are the common mistakes made by marketers?

Drayton: Here are some I listed recently for another interview...
  • Too many amateurs in a business that calls for professionalism.
  • They fail to study the past – or read.
  • They “seek applause instead of sales” – Claude Hopkins said that over 80 years ago.
  • They forget it’s just salesmanship and imagine it’s a branch of the entertainment business. Entertain, by all means, but make sure it’s relevant.
  • They invest before testing – why guess when you can know?
  • They don’t measure. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. What sane person invests in anything without measuring return on investment? Marketers do every day. Why? Because firms see it as an expense, not an investment. That’s why they cut marketing expenditure in recessions.
  • They believe research will supply the answer – when it is only indicative.
  • They don’t study business as a whole - all they think about is marketing.
  • They fail to explain clearly to their colleagues what they are doing – maybe because many don’t really know.
  • Over-optimism and a naive belief that marketing, especially advertising will solve business problems.
  • Hiring marketing directors and senior agency people without checking their credentials. There is too little due diligence in our industry.
  • Uncritical acceptance of “gurus” who are often just recycling old truths. Me, for instance.

Me: What advice would you give anybody starting off in marketing?

  • Read. It’s a very agreeable feeling when you walk into a meeting knowing more than anyone else.
  • Study people. They are the only profit centre in your business. If you really understand your customers you multiply your chances of success.
  • Constantly ask yourself: “What if?” - that is how ideas are born. You need an inquiring mind to succeed in this business.
  • Take an interest in as many things as possible outside marketing, which is a very dull subject. If you think about nothing else you will end up a tremendous bore – to others and yourself.

Drayton is author of several excellent marketing books, including Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing and How to write sales letters that sell? and he also blogs.


Anonymous said...

Paul, great to get Drayton Birds outlook. As a fundraiser I really enjoyed reading Commonsense (thanks for the recommendation) and wish more in our industry would pick it up. said...

This is a great scoop. Very interesting.

haze said...

That was a really insightful post.


There's one HUGE common mistake I'd add from my experience and that is routine. The trap of falling into a repetitive cycle of doing the same thing over and over just because 'that's the way you've always done it' or 'that's the way you were taught'. I've taken quite a few briefs in my time when I've asked a client 'why do you want to do this?', and amazingly, they've essentially shrugged their shoulders!

Paul Dervan said...

cheers lads.

Matt, you're right. We often do stuff because 'that is how it was always done'.