What's a discussion on advertising doing in a column about one-to-one marketing? What will happen to mass media advertising in the impending age of one-to-one? Nothing too drastic—at least not in the near future, anyway. While traditional, unidirectional mass advertising continues to lose ground to dynamic, interactive technologies that solicit customer feedback, three primary reasons challenge the one-to-one marketer to pause and consider how he or she can optimize the one-to-one impact of existing mass media efforts. Customer acquisition, or conquest, will always be with us. Only a few very lucky enterprises will grow as fast as they wish through referrals. Obviously, the retention and growth strategies of one-to-one are rendered totally useless without customers or prospects—to keep and grow. Branding: Mass media vehicles powerfully communicate brand attributes to massive audiences. Doesn't some of the "reward" from owning a Mercedes-Benz or an Armani suit come from your neighbors knowing just how expensive and trendy your new dark blue whatever really is?

Impact is reason number three. Today's most successful one-to-one marketers—at this moment, anyway—remain unable to reach tens of millions of customers on a simultaneous, cost-effective basis. Thus we can count on seeing exciting TV spots for many years to come. While the devoted one-to-one marketer may do so reluctantly, it is nonetheless critically important to use mass advertising as an entry point for one-to-one relationship building. In essence, it is necessary to interact with differentiated customers to accelerate one-to-one relationships in both number and depth.

Of all one-to-one media (e.g., phone, Internet, fax and kiosks), traditional mass media advertising changes the least. Why? Not because ads can't be individualized, but because the cost-effectiveness of versioning increases as versions increase in size. Versioning heightens message impact by enabling customized messaging, for sure, but watch out for the cost and the return on investment. And, above all else, eschew cosmetic customization.

Companies today are beginning the move toward interactivity by incorporating various one-to-one strategies or mechanisms for feedback in their mass marketing campaigns. To evaluate the one-to-one strategies of any mass media advertising activity, start with these three specific questions:

  1. Is the ad stimulating individualized, iterative feedback that is stored and built up, over time, enhancing customer differentiation based on values and needs?
  2. As the feedback is received and stored, does it cause a substantial, non- cosmetic change in subsequent interactions that build upon the information methodically? In other words, does the feedback help us place the customer into smaller and smaller portfolios that are individualized incrementally through feedback?
  3. Does the customer perceive adequate benefit from his or her collaboration with the marketer to warrant further cooperation?

With regard to mass media, soliciting feedback is the principal enhancement that makes for optimum one-to-one results. Whenever necessary, reward feedback through an "explicit bargain." In other words, reward or enhance service for responsive customers. While traditional mass advertising tends to talk at customers or prospective customers, the one-to-one marketer's goal is to stimulate dialogue in the customer feedback loop. The one-to-one marketer must, therefore, follow two critical procedures in virtually all forms of marketing communications.
Step One: Assure that every outbound communication encourages direct response through as many different response devices as are practical. Listing URLs, phone numbers and addresses on billboards or in TV spots may be impractical, but one choice—generally the phone number or URL—can be included. Step Two: Solicit more feedback than name, address and phone number. Obtain differentiation data in this initial interaction. Ideally, the request yields enough predictor variables to place the prospect in a portfolio that will optimize the next interaction. This must be orchestrated cautiously, since over- querying often creates a barrier to customer interaction.

Insurance companies regularly ask the respondent's age, for example, which for them is a helpful, yet relatively non-threatening, differentiator. While stockbrokers might ideally solicit a copy of a person's current brokerage statement, it is likely that such a bold request will adversely affect response rates. Asking instead for an approximate level of invested funds accomplishes the same objective with less intimidation. The result is a greater response.

For long-term success, there is absolutely no alternative to testing multiple approaches and carefully measuring the cost, response rate and return on investment from each. The fact is that emerging interactive media provide greater opportunities for personalization and precision. As bandwidth to the home increases and personal computers and consumer electronics become increasingly intertwined, unidirectional mass media can be expected to continue losing ground to interactive, one-to-one media. In the meantime, strive to solicit as much individual feedback as possible.

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