April 17 2007 04:30 PM

Mom always said that when one door closes another one opens.  Remember the good old days, back in 2004?  You're sitting down to dinner with the family and the phone rings.  You dutifully answer, only to be met with, yet another aggressive caller telling you that your current mortgage payment is too high and have they got a deal for you.  Varied responses included thanks-but-no-thanks, muttering obscenities, and grumpily returning to your cooling dinner.

Fast forward to 2007.  I can't remember the last time I got an unsolicited marketing call.  Yeah, the companies that you do business with still have the right to bug you once in a while but the bulk was eliminated in January 2005 when telemarketers were required, by law, to update their calling databases, monthly, against the National Do Not Call Registry.  A direct marketing channel to the customer closed.

Back to 2004: the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 goes into effect requiring unsolicited commercial e-mails to be labeled, prohibiting deceptive subject lines and false headers, and authorizing the FTC to create a National Do Not Spam list.  Meanwhile, we still get disk-filling quantities from servers in Bulgaria and arm ourselves with spam filters against the onslaught.

2006: Redmond Bill and the gang release the long awaited Vista amid renewed promises that it will make e-mail spam a thing of the past.  If the promise is kept this time, another channel to the customer closed.

1970: A group of direct mail marketers appeal to the Supreme Court, citing that a new law is unjust, unconstitutional and hurting their business.  They lose in a ruling that allows complete and unfettered discretion to the addressee in electing whether or not they want to receive mail from a particular source.  Of course, this protection fails today in practical application as it requires proactively going to the Post Office, filling out the form for each company, with the attached offending mailpiece in its entirety and perhaps negotiation with the postal worker about the regulation with which he may be unfamiliar. Channel to the customer still open.

In the USPS Strategic Transformation Plan 2006-2010, released in September 2005, they cite the use of multiple channels for consumer purchases and translate that into a prediction of flat-to-positive growth in total mail volumes and declining first-class mail volumes at an approximate 3% year-over-year decline.  How can that be?  The difference is direct mail and packages.  Channel to the customer still open and growing.

2007: With the new USPS rate case approved, a stamp moves from 39 cents to 42 cents with across the board increases for all automation mail and bulk rates as well.  That means it just got 7.7% more costly to be direct.  That means you had better be at least 7.7% more effective at mailing the right thing to the right person and hope that their response rates rise accordingly.  Every time there is a rate increase, there is a shift in the economics of direct mail.  Channel to the customer challenged.

2007: Is ecology the new morality?  Where do you open your mail?  The stock answer used to be over the garbage can.  The 2007 politically correct answer is over the recycling bin.  Let's face it.  Our collective tolerance for wasting energy and resources is waning.  Need proof?  Just look at the smug faces of the Prius owners as they speed by you in the carpool lane or witness the freshly keyed paint job on the H2 you parked next to at the grocery store.  How long will it take for us to move from merely complaining about the waste to seeing practical Do Not Mail legislation?  The answer is that we have already started.  Ten states have introduced bills that provide for a Do Not Mail Registry similar to Do Not Call.  Though, as expected, the Direct Marketing Association is active in proffering counter arguments but the sheer number of leaks in the dike would suggest that they couldn't plug them all.  This movement has inertia and it's not standing still.  The only question is how much momentum it will develop.  Channel closing.

What's a marketer to do?  For starters, exercise a little self-constraint by nurturing the channels that are in-place.  Corporate executives get downright giddy when talking about the cost savings associated with on-line bill payment and presentment with paper suppression.  What they don't realize is that they are ceding their right to mail focused marketing materials as they do.  The key is to integrate the database-driven, 1:1, marketing efforts towards the people that you know the most about and with which you have enduring relationships.  That means combining your transactional communication with your marketing promotions and communication (TransPromo?).  Mailers have an enduring right to send to those with which they have business relationships and further can expect that their messages will be more often seen, read, and acted upon as they are part of a document that the customer is has formed the habit of opening, even if they saw it online a week ago.

The right document to the right person at the right time should be the new TransPromo mantra.  It means coordinating your message with your production process capability from end-to-end.  It means working with partners that get it and take creative approaches to implement new ideas while working within the practical constraints of your legacy systems.

Prognostication 2009: Beating SkyWaves Research earlier estimates, commercial-free satellite radio reaches 50 million net subscribers and ClearChannel announces that it is departing from another 300 low performing markets that includes some surprisingly large cities.  TiVo and DVRs are as ubiquitous as the dusty DVD players purchased in 2004.  Tony Soprano now peels the visibly branded label from the fat-free salami that replaced the generic gabagool and the script includes comments about the interior appointments and smooth ride of his new hybrid-drive Escalade.  I now open the few pieces of mail that I receive, from the trusted companies I do business with, in front of my computer, looking forward to accessing, on-line, the offers that seem to have read my mind and fit my buying requirements.  Mom was right.