More 1on1: Stan Rapp on Digital Direct Marketing

Stan Rapp is a marketing icon and co-founder of Rapp Collins (now RAPP) and served as CEO of McCann Relationship Marketing. Both agencies generate combined revenue of more than $1 billion. Currently he is chairman of Engauge, a full service marketing agency specializing in digital and interactive media. Advertising Age named Rapp as one of the 101 people who shaped advertising in the 20th century. He is the co-author of six books including MaxiMarketing and his latest, Reinventing Interactive and Direct Marketing.

Is it true that direct marketing has to go digital to survive?
Direct is digital. Digital is direct by definition. What has been seen as two different disciplines to the detriment of the development of both, are really one in the same. The future of marketing will be built on a direct platform because direct marketing has always been addressable and accountable, but with the arrival of the Internet, direct also became affordable and accessible.

I am the voice for the view that we’ve gone from mass marketing to 1-on-1 marketing. But what does that mean? That means the direct discipline of understanding the value of that customer in everything you are selling or might sell over the lifetime of that relationship is the basis of all businesses now.

What’s the biggest difference for small businesses marketing in the digital age?
There is so much that is available to small business today that is free in the marketing arena. It is right there in Google and other places. Google alone gives you the ability with search to put your message locally in front of people who have identified themselves as being in your target audience because they have said something in their e-mail, article or blog. You are right next to Kraft, Coca-Cola and all the others you can measure that response using the tools made available free, and you can analyze that response with the tolls made available for free by Google.

Now, you can learn how to build your database. Sure, it will be smaller and less comprehensive, but a really workable database that will enable you to do what direct marketers do—send future messages to those people who have opted in to your site. Now Coca-Cola has 15 million people in its Rewards program and maybe you will have 15 people, but you may only need five if you are in b2b or 150 if you are in b2c mode. You get 100 of them to come into your store and try your thingamajig. That’s the big difference between then and now. It’s a world of difference.

Database marketing used to be the father of direct marketing. How do you see that changing with digital?
Here’s an example. My Coke Rewards ( has 15 million people and they can go to them quietly, secretly to any segment and send them a survey or questionnaire and learn and add useful information. And why do we get that information? We aren’t spying on people. We want to serve them better. If we can serve them better, we build our brand. We build our business. The ability to learn about the people we are dealing with and selling to and would sell to has been exponentially increased.

Is there too much information out there today?
Yes, there’s a flood of data. But at the same time we have this new, live data that is now expanded to the social networking situation, where you have Facebook…. And what are people saying about my brand on Twitter right now? Everything is transformed because of the Internet—even public speaking. Now I say to people, “Take out your BlackBerry, don’t put it away, and please be kind as you Twitter away.”

What do you say to small-business owners who are overwhelmed by social media and all the digital tools available?
On one hand, marketing is more complex because there are more channels of distribution now. And the media that was once available is disappearing to some degree and there is a threat to some degree of further disintegration in the media world. But at the same time, it is simpler than ever for the small-business owner.

Maybe you can’t do it yourself. Find yourself a local person. Or find someone to teach you.
If you are a retailer and you are opening a restaurant or a retail store, find yourself some local advertising, people who are more comfortable using these digital tools. It will cost you next to nothing because they are really small entrepreneurs, just like you, who are looking for local business.

What do you think the digital era means for more traditional marketing and direct marketing advertising?
I am glad you coupled those two because a lot of people when they talk about traditional, talk about media advertising and forget that more money is spent on direct marketing than all the measured media out there. They both are getting less money than they normally got, but not as much less as so many people think. There is a myth that advertising is dead or dying and direct mail is done for, and that’s nonsense. Just as it’s nonsense to say radio was done for when TV came. What is increasingly going to happen is that TV advertising will become more interactive. One-third of all TV households can already respond to the advertising in real time. So, increasingly, marketers will learn how to take advantage of that. At the same time, an emotional connection with a consumer is the fastest way to build a brand if you can get it right. It is a gamble. Much of it is unproductive because it misses the mark, but you still have to go for it. Just putting your name out there is a big benefit. When you put your name out there it matters. Look at Coca-Cola; when they finally put a polar bear out there they got a response, but there were 50 other pieces of creative that didn’t get a reaction. But all those times they were saying Coca-Cola.

In your book Reinventing Interactive and Direct Marketing you introduce the term iDirect. What does it mean?
It describes how the “i” in combination with direct defines marketing of the future. iDirect is interactive, integrated, involving, informed, insightful, innovative, individualized, interconnective, iterative and grounded in what only an Internet-infused direct marketing relationship can do.  

As a legend in the direct marketing industry, what are some of your personal philosophies for success?
My personal credo is summed in a magic P.I.L.L. Persevere. Innovate. Listen. Love. Perseverance is the most important factor. Stay with it. If success was so easy, everyone would be a success. Innovate. Your product or service has to be something new. Always make sure there is something new you are doing. Next, listen. All the information is out there. Go to the Direct Marketing Association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Ad Tech, Digital Days. Listen and learn. And finally, love. If you don’t love what you are doing, you won’t be able to persevere. Motivation comes from loving what you do.

How has the experience for the customer changed in the digital era?
The overwhelming reality of our time is the face of change, in particular in the last three years as far as marketing and the economy are concerned. Along with this advance, change and a leap in technology that has literally changed the behavior of almost everyone, and certainly of the consumer, has mightily empowered the consumer to confront the marketer with knowledge that they get by going to and other sites they might visit before buying a car…  

What’s the future of direct marketing look like?
The future of marketing will be built on a direct platform because direct marketing has always been addressable and accountable; but with the arrival of the Internet, direct also became affordable and accessible.

Stan Rapp on Small Business and the Economy:
Another thing that is too often overlooked is that more than half of U.S. employment is in the small business sector and it would be great if the government or someone else in the private sector could sponsor small-business dynamo meetings to help the small-business person at a nominal cost to come in and learn how to use these new digital tools and how to think like a direct marketer, so their service, their product, gets introduced to enough people to test its viability. If you are new, you have something new to sell, and in today’s world, sampling what you have is the way you get started. It would be great to have this information spread around the country quickly. And to encourage very small businesses, the startup of one person or two or three to survive by getting to the point where they can hire two or three more people. Multiply that by millions and you do something for the unemployment in this country. Our answer to this crisis is not going to come from big business because big business is ruthlessly, maybe necessarily, watching the bottom line and the last thing they are going to do is hire people, but they will work people 20 hours a day. Small business begins to make some money and they hire people.


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