The only constant is change, and nowhere is that more true than in direct response. Just a few decades ago, powered by inexpensive airtime and credit card acceptance, DR was the most innovative way to bring a product to market. Now, it’s a tried-and-true technique, embraced by brand advertisers and direct sellers alike.
Through the changes, ERA’s D2C Convention has helped the industry cope with emerging shopping behaviors, calibrate selling techniques, and work with with regulators. As the one constant in the industry, the three days of education and celebration the association stages at the beginning of each fall in Las Vegas has helped marketers manage change.
This year, D2C emphasized the broader mission DR marketers face today in making products into household names in the omnichannel marketplace. Sessions concentrated on the idea that marketers must now use multiple channels, data, and innovation to tell a brand’s story. And this was the spot to learn them.
Day 1: Sessions on Selling
Sessions began Tuesday, Sept. 13 with “Direct Response 101: Leveraging Offline & Online Marketing to Achieve Greater ROI,” offering advice on fundamentals that can make or break a campaign. With all channels influencing one another, defining and segmenting the customer base is more important than ever, panelists said.
“Use every channel and every tactic,” said Fern Lee, CEO of THOR Associates. “You need to touch the consumer over and over again. Don’t assume you know who your customer is. Drill down and get more data.”
It’s a challenge to keep up with marketplace demands, added James Diorio, CEO of Dial800. “If you think you have it dialed in and everything figured out, you’re toast,” he said. “The environment is changing too fast. Keep an open mind and do as much as you can. And don’t get overwhelmed by thinking you have to do everything right.”
Getting things right when it comes to disclosures, testimonials, and offer terms is a necessity, though, and that’s where self-regulation comes in. In the discussion “D2R: It’s Hot and It’s Not What You Think,” Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program (ERSP) director Peter Marinello welcomed attorneys Jeff Knowles, Venable LLP; Bill Knowlton, Invictus Law PC; and Marc Roth, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP, as well as a special guest speaker, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.
Reyes praised ERSP for helping marketers prevent regulatory missteps and allowing government to focus its limited resources on bad actors. “We appreciate what you do to improve the quality of life for our citizens,” Reyes said. “If you have excellent products and services and take excellent care of your customers, we will leave you alone. It’s when you cut corners and take liberties—that’s when things go awry.”
While state investigations are often easier to handle than an FTC charge, participation in ERSP can help avoid formal actions altogether. “Being an active part in a third-party compliance organization like ERSP is a tremendous benefit,” Knowlton said. “If there are companies making claims that are patently unfair, a third-party program is worth its weight in gold. It levels the playing field.”
Additional sessions covered mobile content, affiliate marketing, and cross-channel attribution—an issue familiar to DRTV marketers eager to discover which channel should get credit for a sale. “Success Stories: Who’s Moving the Needle in Today’s Omnichannel World?” argued, however, that this might be the wrong question to ask when the path to purchase can begin and end almost anywhere.
“In the 1980s, attribution was very straightforward—you could measure everything from the phone call,” said Scott Reid, COO of Oak Lawn Marketing. “In the omnichannel world, it’s more sophisticated. We analyze everything, but it is not a science or an art—it is somewhere in the middle. Surround yourself with a lot of VSPs—Very Smart People.”
Elsewhere at the show, the Industry Women’s Council met for the first time on Tuesday, with chair Debbie Skerly of a2b Fulfillment welcoming 50 enthusiastic new members. The D2C Launch Party, sponsored by TeleBrands, closed the night at the Wynn’s Surrender nightclub, giving attendees ample time to unwind and network poolside.
Day 2: Busy Building Brands
The D2C show floor opened on Wednesday, Sept. 14, housing exhibitor booths and educational sessions. Standout sessions included “Game of Fives: How to Win on TV and Digital in Five Minutes,” an examination of mid-length creative treatments. “The 28:30 infomercial is not extinct, but it is an endangered species,” said Susan McKenna, of Hair Club and Bosley. “People don’t watch a show that long anymore.”
“Fives” lend themselves to anything that benefits from demonstration and instruction, such as cookware and fitness equipment. One client with a steady history of :120s and long-forms achieved better MER with a five- minute treatment, said Kate Kalevich of Mercury Media; fives also offer access to better dayparts and can be tested for as little as $25,000 per week.
“They perform psychologically and emotionally like an infomercial, and the close rate is the same,” said moderator Ava Seavey, of Avalanche Creative Services. “You have the time to tell a story effectively in a five-minute format. Then [consumers] go online, and you’re talking to them.”
Mikael Greenlief, director of Strategy for digital agency Giant Spoon, showcased the innovative ways marketers are using data to create engagement and brand affinity among consumers in his keynote address, “Connected Storytelling: Leveraging Digital and Data to Move Beyond Powering Ads.”
The savviest brand advertisers create content that cuts through the clutter of multiple channels, Greenlief said. “Brands are really the storytellers of the 21st century,” he said. “They tell stories to position themselves in the marketplace, and that resonates with consumers.”
Brands can address three “tensions” with advertising, he said: the rational, the delightful, and the emotional. The Tennessee Visitors Bureau, for example, appealed to tourists’ rational side with a series of 24 one-minute road trip videos, while EA Sports created delight with its Madden
GIFerator. The emotional connection is the most essential, however. “Advertising at its best provokes emotion,” Greenlief said. “Brands with an emotional connection to consumers are 52 percent more valuable.”
Advertisers can use data to connect. Nike, for example, taps data from users of its fitness apps to deliver personalized content. With technological developments such as biometrics, brands can eventually become “clairvoyant,” Greenlief said, and predict consumer needs. “We know more about consumers than ever before, so we can connect with them in more ways than ever before,” he said. “It’s not just about capturing analytics data; it’s about creating insights we can act upon.”
Additional sessions covered the use of big data in customer profiling and targeting, advertising on Facebook and Instagram, the role of online video in user engagement, and addressable and programmatic TV buying. The Learning Lounge hosted a session on payment processing, and 30 inventor hopefuls in the InventHelp/INPEX New Product Showcase showed off their products to judges. The Asia Committee reception and the Wednesday White Party closed out a jam-packed day.
Day 3: Thought Leader Thursday
Peter Koeppel, president of Koeppel Direct, checked more than 100 studies to distill trends for his Thursday, Sept. 15 Masters Series session, “Trend Spotting: Benchmarking the Present and Predicting the Future of Marketing.” The near-infinite options in the path to purchase are changing advertising, he said. “Choice is threatening the interruptive model. The power has shifted from the marketer to the consumer.”
While television and radio still have massive reach, 86 percent of consumers use their smartphones while they watch TV, and that means that even direct response can’t be as direct as it once was. “DRTV is likely to act as a vehicle to create awareness,” Koeppel said. “But at mass retail, having a brand mean something is one way to stand out.
“You have to engage people on an emotional level, with storytelling and testimonials,” he said, echoing the show’s keynote. “But it isn’t just your own content you have to worry about—you have to worry about vloggers and online reviews, too. The consumer has to find you—not some hateful blogger who makes you lose control of the purchase journey.”
In the afternoon, the winner of the InventHelp/INPEX New Product Showcase was named: the Flat-Out Backen, a portable barbeque grill that folds to less than an inch thick for transport. Husband-and-wife inventors Tracy and Renney Tenney beat out four other finalists, winning tickets to the Moxie Awards Gala and the attention of companies that could expand distribution and make the product a million-seller.
The inventors spent six years developing the Flat-Out Backen, named for a period they spent testing a prototype while camping in Australia. “We went to Hawaii, and people saw it and offered us $200 for it,” Tracy Tenney said. “Then we went to Australia, and they offered $250 for it. That’s when we knew we had to do something with it.”
A manufacturing deal could be in the offing to expand the release of the Flat-Out Backen grill as a result of the exposure. “Everybody we talked to is looking for the deal you can’t refuse,” Renney Tenney said. “We’re going to work on the keeping the quality, and then we’re going to work on the price.”
In the evening, the annual Moxie Awards Gala recognized more than 30 exceptional creative treatments, spokespersons, and personalities, with ERA Chairman Poonam Khubani emceeing. ERA’s most prestigious award, the Lifetime Achievement Award, went to Dan Danielson, co-chairman of Mercury Media. Danielson launched his career with SyberVision in 1986, pioneering long-form infomercials, then partnered with John Cabrinha to form Direct Ventures Marketing, which merged with Mercury shortly after.
A testimonial video highlighted Danielson’s business acumen, kindness, and respect within the industry. “Dan Danielson has played a critical role in the success of clients, and his generosity has touched the lives of numerous individuals,” said Chris Reinmuth, ERA president and CEO. “He is a consummate marketer and has helped shape our industry, while building his company and the businesses of his high-profile clients.”
“I accept this award on my behalf, but everything I’ve done I can also attribute to my partnership with John Cabrinha,” Danielson said, also thanking his clients, staff, and family for their ongoing support. “This is an industry of relationships. I thank all of you for this award. I truly appreciate your friendship and support and kindness.”
Another award recognized Collette Liantonio and Concepts TV Productions for pro bono work supporting ItStartsWithAGirl.com, a charity that helps educate disadvantaged girls in India, and other nonprofits. “I think we all want to give back, but we don’t always know what to do,” she said. “There are so many talented people in this room, and we have the opportunity to put our collective talents together and really make a difference.”
Marketing Maven President and CEO Lindsey Carnett accepted ERA’s Volunteer of the Year Award, closing the night with a recognition of her extraordinary contributions to the association. A consummate PR professional, Carnett chairs ERA’s Content Committee, produces ERA’s webinar series, and otherwise contributes her expertise to the betterment of the association and its member companies.
“Joining ERA was something I did almost immediately after starting Marketing Maven seven years ago,” Carnett said. “I’m honored to have had the opportunity to work with so many talented and creative people. My mission is for us to move forward with the same sense of camaraderie—this feeling of a somewhat dysfunctional family reunion would be missed if we couldn’t be a part of it. It doesn’t feel like work, because I enjoy serving.”