What are the business concerns keeping today’s direct response marketers up at night? ER Online is reaching out to industry thought leaders for answers. This month, we go one-on-one with Katie Williams, president of Ideal Living. Williams, who is a renowned DR marketer and successful entrepreneur, talks about how her company is dealing with the industry’s biggest issues, why video offers the most growth potential for marketers, and what she believes the industry will look like in the future.
What are the biggest issues facing the direct response marketing industry today?
KW: The biggest issue for the DRTV marketing industry today is the decline of TV viewership—cable viewership was down a historic 20 percent this summer. On top of that, ad-skipping DVRs further erode the audience. Consequently, TV advertising rates are overpriced relative to viewership. Secondly, alternative channels fail to consistently and accurately deliver an audience of critical mass.
As a company, how are you addressing these issues?
KW: We love challenges because we need to keep upping our game, fine-tuning our products, marketing, and operations. We’ve always marketed in different channels, but we’re diversifying further [by] taking advantage of print, radio, online digital, and of course, retail. So I guess you can say, we cover all bases. That said, we love TV as it drives our sales in all channels.
What’s the biggest challenge that you have when trying to converge traditional direct response with digital media best practices?
KW: I think traditional direct response principles are the foundation of all successful direct marketing. And our direct response principles are the foundation of success for digital as well. In that sense, we are very successful; our conversions are much better than non-DR companies’ conversions. We have excellent conversions up to sometimes 30 percent on some of our search advertising. But the big problem that we face—if you were to isolate digital—is getting critical mass and scale equivalent to what we can get on TV. And I think that is the biggest barrier.
There are very few companies that have achieved that scale with pure-play digital marketing. In fact, many digital companies are turning to TV in order to help scale. For us, TV drives everything. For instance, our retail sales are going to be higher if there’s TV; our Amazon sales are high with TV; our eBay sales are higher when our TV increases. All of our digital sales increase when our TV increases and when our TV decreases, they all decrease. There’s some base that continues no matter what, but the power of TV to drive all these channels is unparalleled.
Where do you see the most growth potential happening in digital marketing?
KW: I see it in video because the ability to tell a story through video is the most powerful marketing tool that exists. In particular, I see it in direct response video to tell the story of a product and to demonstrate, and to emotionally connect with a viewer. In contrast, the vast majority of online marketing today consists of static images and uninspired copy—somewhat similar to a 1950’s catalog. I think we’ll see tremendous growth in video marketing, [however], what exists now is in the very, very early stage. And DRTV marketers are poised to lead the growth in that form of marketing.
What will the direct response business look like in the next five to 10 years?
KW: The foundational principles will remain the same. And just the expression in terms of technology might be different. Again, I think we’re well poised to ride the waves and lead the change. I’d love to see more partnerships between Silicon Valley and digital leaders with direct marketers, because together they could become a powerhouse that can’t be stopped.
What companies will survive these changes?
KW: The leading DRTV companies all have very strong operational efficiencies, [highly-developed] marketing machines, sophisticated systems and methodologies, and we have very broad expertise in direct marketing. The companies that are leaders now will continue to survive, and any new company coming along that really focuses on the operational efficiencies and learning the direct marketing techniques can also survive.
Katie Williams will be speaking during the 2015 ERA D2C Convention on Thursday, October 8. She will join fellow industry luminaries for a special keynote panel entitled, “The Legends of Direct Response.”
Vi Paynich is content manager at the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA).