What Trump's Triumph Tells Us About Marketers' Needs & Publishers’ Opportunities
I promise you that the following three seemingly disconnected observations are related to each other and relevant to publishing. Bear with me, please:
- Donald Trump’s campaign provides a valuable lesson in 21st Century marketing. And the lesson is not, as some of the pundits claim, that marketing no longer works.
- After rapid declines early in this century, U.S. businesses’ use of direct-mail marketing has been steadily rising the past three years. Some marketers that had cut back on “junk mail” are now shifting more of their marketing money back to that channel.
- A financial institution recently sent me an elaborate marketing piece on which the postage alone was $1.15. I didn’t even open the envelope.
During the recent circus that masqueraded as a political campaign, chances are that you saw far more marketing messages for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump -- and yet Trump won. The pundits are as wrong about what that means as they were in predicting the election’s outcome.
“The winner in this case spent a small fraction in paid advertising compared to the loser,” my cyber-friend BoSacks wrote in a recent post-election blog post, though he didn’t quite join the Death of Advertising meme. “I ask again was the problem bad ads, or have we reached a moment in time when ads no longer persuade?”
Neither, Bo. What happened was a case of superior marketing strategy trumping (sorry) a superior marketing budget.
Clinton ads seemed to be everywhere. But Trump’s ad spending was skimpy and sporadic, with much of the resources for his campaign, party, and supporting PACs focused instead on direct mail and volunteer phone banks.
The Clintonistas broadcast their message to the entire country. But the ReTrumplicans focused on the relatively small group of people who would decide the election.
Here’s the math: Roughly half of U.S. adults don’t vote, about 70% live in states like Utah and Massachusetts where the election wasn’t close, and probably almost half weren’t going to vote for Trump no matter what. So the possible Trump voters in battleground states represented only about 8% of American adults.
And Mr. Robert Sacks (alias BoSacks) of Charlottesville, Virginia -- a registered Democrat who lives in a liberal college town in a battleground state -- was most definitely not among that 8%. The last thing the GOP wanted to do was to remind him to vote or to make him think the race was competitive.
But you can bet the GOP sent plenty of mail to Virginians – reminding Appalachian residents about Clinton’s “war on coal,” evangelicals about Supreme Court appointments, hunters about gun control, and military veterans about Benghazi.
Likewise, the Trump campaign won battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, and Michigan by lying low in urban areas while preaching the evils of NAFTA and TPP to devastated steel-mill towns, textile-producing regions, and former auto workers.
The lesson here is nothing new to the publishing industry: Marketers need to target the right message to the right people and not waste money on unlikely prospects or irrelevant messages. (Hint: Unlike politicians, however, few of our clients can succeed with messages that focus mostly on how bad the competition is.)
The triumph of Trump may indeed signal that big-media national advertising is in trouble. Marketers have an increasingly clearer picture of what their best prospects are like, where they live, even who they are. They’re looking for marketing media that will enable them to reach and engage those targets.
Programmatic advertising was supposed to provide that, and sometimes it does -- like when you abandon a product in an online shopping cart and then see ads for it on other sites. But too many advertisers have become disenchanted with fraudulent and accidental clicks, plus generally low response rates, for programmatic to be The Answer.
Thus the shift back to direct mail, despite its exorbitantly higher costs. Mail, after all, is the only vehicle that enables you to reach an entire group – say, NRA members in North Carolina – without getting blocked by spam filters. (Plus, the U.S. Postal Service is rolling out a program that may give direct mail some juice: It would enable organizations to send mail to someone based only on her email address, not her street address.)
Consider this: A colleague recently told me that her magazine, which is ecstatic when it gets a $5 RPM (revenue per thousand pairs of eyeballs) from programmatic ads, recently sold a custom publication using repurposed articles for a $5,000 RPM. The sponsor is footing the bill to produce and mail the piece to its high-value prospects, knowing that the content will be of interest to the recipients and relevant to the sponsors’ messaging.
And consider that fancy direct-mail piece that I ignored, which must have cost the bank at least $1.50 per recipient. For that kind of money, the bank could have sent me a custom publication containing articles about retirement planning licensed from leading investor magazines, alongside its own messages. I would have looked at that, along with the bank’s messaging, and would have appreciated that the bank was trying to educate me rather than bamboozle me.
Creating valuable content for niche audiences is what magazine media have always done. But those niches don’t always align with our advertisers’ increasingly sophisticated targeting. We need to find more arrows for our quivers.
Even our old warhorses, print magazines, can be retooled for more precise targeting. Our subscriber lists can be segmented to enable advertisers to reach their targeted audiences with high-visibility (and high-priced) vehicles like cover wraps, inserts, and special sections. Mailing to select non-subscribers can enhance the value of such programs.
Some publishers’ web sites have had success honing in on sub-niches within their niches – creating content, newsletters, separate sections of the site, and online communities for precisely defined groups.
Consumer publishers would do well to study how the B2B folks use sponsored white papers, ebooks, and webinars to help their advertisers reach people trying to solve a specific type of problem.
This year, the publishing industry seems to have reached consensus that, to prosper in the age of mega-platforms Facebook and Google, we must focus on premium and niches, not on scale. Trump’s victory suggests that approach will increasingly resonate with advertisers.