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Andy Owen, a direct marketing guru and a great man. 
Andy Owen
Energetic, passionate and in love - with direct marketing - and life as well. He was one of the most eagerly awaited speakers at the 3rd Central European direct marketing Congress in Portoro_. His lecture was supposed to be one hour long. At the end, it was two and a half times longer. At the end of the presentation he told us how many slides he shared - it was 285. 

But the audience didn't mind, even though he was the speaker to conclude the Congress and the time for lunch was overdue. On the contrary, we would be prepared to listen to him for the whole afternoon. 

I met him early on Saturday morning for breakfast. He was already waiting for me drinking coffee. We had a lovely chat about the direct marketing industry. I listened to his intriguing observations intently. And on every point, he was riveting. 

Talking to him opened an entirely new dimension. I left the breakfast hall in the Hotel Bernardin feeling fresh, more energetic and full of new ideas. 

Only a few people can leave me feeling like that... 

Andy Owen is Managing Director of Andy Owen & Associates, a leading international direct marketing consultancy with over 24 years' experience working at the highest level for some of the worldSs best known companies and corporations. The consultancy provides comprehensive, high quality and knowledgeable expertise in contemporary direct and strategic marketing, originating and implementing effective campaigns and programs to address the requirements and objectives of its client base. Andy's experience has been gained from working for banks, airlines, hotel groups, finance companies and leading retailers amongst many others. 

Ana: Andy Owen, 24 years of experience in direct marketing, running your agency Andy Owen and Associates in the UK and the Middle East and associate offices in Europe and the USA, an excellent speaker and presenter, travelling all over the world to work with clients and sharing the knowledge and passion for direct marketing. How do you do it? Where does the energy come from? 

I guess it's the passion for the business; it's the love for the business. I have to say that I am not doing it as a job. My natural enthusiasm for direct marketing gives me the energy. 

Let's face it, at my age, "hanging my boots up" is on the horizon. There will come a time when I will end the agency business and will become a global ambassador, speak at conferences and work exclusively with certain clients in an advisory role. It is not so important where I am going to live - whether that is in the UK or in Spain where we recently purchased a lovely house. 

And at the end of the year I hope to have my new book coming out, about direct marketing and communication in today's tough world. But first, I have to find time to finish it. It is pretty much written, but I need time away to edit and structure it. Finding that time isn't easy at the moment. 

Back to the energy question - I think it's all about that I happen to have a talent for writing copy that sells and originating creative that attracts and influences. One to one communication is a massive challenge for a writer. 

You find yourself sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper and have to create magic that results in the response(s) that the client wants. And when that client then calls and says it has been successful, you get a buzz like no other. Pure adrenalin. 

Ana: Having agencies and associate offices in the UK, USA, Europe and the Middle East, which market is the most challenging to work in? 

I would have to say the UK market. It's my home after all. But as well as having the interests and clients in those markets you mentioned, we also work with clients in India, Australia, Canada, South Africa and many more. It's a small world now. I help them create direct marketing programmes, write copy, advise on all things creative. Of course there are some cultural changes across the markets, but, in the main, the same technique works. You must still follow the AIDCA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Conviction, Action) steps, to create effective copy that connects, influences and sells. 

Ana: On your website there is a quote: "85% of all advertising and marketing is invisible, because it is so badly done. 14% of all advertising and marketing is extremely poor - either unattractive, stupid, patronising or demeaning. The remaining 1% is terrific work." Why is this happening? 

I am really worried about that, to be honest. There are so many charlatans and imposters in marketing and advertising. A lot of them just haven't got a clue. You saw some of the slides I showcased yesterday. It's quite incredible the garbage that people are creating and clients are signing off. 

It's getting worse. No doubt at all about that. 

What is happening in the market is that people who work in marketing, are not educated enough. They don't study. There were some incredible marketers in the past that created excellent ads from which we can learn a lot. You see, times change, but people don't. 

Caples, Hopkins and Ogilvy are three who immediately come to mind. David of course, who was a great advertiser and created the famous ad for Rolls Royce - I shared it with everyone yesterday. 

And there is Drayton Bird who is, in my view, the greatest living direct marketer, still sharing his vast knowledge during his lectures. 

Ana: For the ignorant... What is the difference between direct marketing and traditional marketing? 

How long do you have? In simplistic terms it's this. With traditional marketing you send something to 100 people to reach 2 and that is costly and inefficient. I have a saying: "Advertising to everyone to get to someone make no sense". Especially these days when we can identify that 'someone'. In the USA and the U.K.,in the last few years, marketers have seen their return on investment from press advertising and TV reduce dramatically. They're turning to DM in big numbers. You see, audiences are very savvy these days; you have to approach them in the right way and always, always give them a good offer if you want them to buy from you. DM can do this better than any other medium. 

Ana: direct marketing agencies in Slovenia are still facing a problem with educating clients on the importance of direct marketing. What would be your advice for the agencies? 

It is far, far easier to sell to an existing customer than it is to find a new one. That is a mantra that should be written in stone in every marketing department. Do you know that most companies lose 20% of their customers every year? 

And mostly for one reason. They don't look after them. As I mentioned yesterday, customers are like hearts. They go where they are appreciated. 

So, for the unbelievers, let's take this analogy: Let's say that a bath is full of water. The water level represents your customers. The objective is to raise the level of the water (to increase the number of customers). But, despite water coming in, the level stays the same or gets lower. 

You can't understand it. It makes no sense. 

The reason this is happening is simple. Someone has forgotten to put the plug in the bath. Put the plug in - and hey presto - the water level starts to rise. 

Good direct marketing to existing customers, is that plug for your bath. 

Ana: There are two sorts of agencies present in the market when it comes to direct marketing - integrated ones, which offer direct marketing as one of its departments and specialised direct marketing agencies. 

CRM is a much-abused word. So is integrated. When clients are pitching for an agency, they are usually aiming -for the ease of doing business- ( I prefer to call it laziness) for one agency doing all the marketing, which means an integrated agency. 

But they have to be aware that integrated agencies offer a whole spectrum of marketing communications and are not necessarily specialised for certain elements of the communication mix. I know some agencies that have some graduates working on direct marketing and that is it. Laughable. What do graduates know about anything? 

On the other hand, direct marketing agencies are specialised and know the business. Integrated is traditional, direct marketing is what works these days. 

Be very careful. direct marketing is a specialist area. Integrated agencies rarely produce great work. 

The difference would best be noticed if a client gave the same brief to a specialist DM agency as is given to the incumbent integrated agency. If the DM agency know their stuff, they should produce proposals and strategies that blow the other agency out of the water. 

Ana: And what would Andy do if a client comes to him and says they want an integrated campaign? 

We handle hundreds of integrated campaigns. By that I mean, campaigns and programmes that include direct mail, off the page advertising, door drops, HTML and text emails, banner ads etc...would do it and we are doing it. 

But the platform for such a strategic move, has its roots in direct marketing. Every time. 

Ana: And the most effective and efficient direct marketing tool in your opinion is.... 

Still direct mail. By a long way. Done correctly, it will still deliver more sales £ for £, $ for $ than any other medium. However, the trend currently in client circles, is e-mail marketing. 

It is cheaper than direct mail, but you have to be aware that lead generation with direct e-mail marketing does not work. Period. Email is currently imploding in a big way. Email can be quite successful though, if used to communicate with existing customers and opt-in audiences. 

Every one of us faces a horrendous situation each morning, when we open our in-box and see 100+ emails. I get, on average 250. First thing we all do it is try to zap all the spam and what we end up with is 20 or so e-mails related to our business. 

So, given that scenario, I don't think any of us are in a buying mode at that time. In fact, far from it. 

Obviously, the internet is vitally important. And, in the future, it will get even more important. It is vital to have a meaningful presence on the internet, to have a very good site and have a good knowledge of how it all works. 

But, as with all aspects of contemporary direct marketing, the best way to find out what is working for you and what is not, is test. Ruthlessly. 

Ana: What is your opinion about the direct marketing industry in the UK? At what stage is it? 

It is still viewed by the clients as it was 3 years ago. But they have to realise that today's customers have changed. Significantly. They are now very, very savvy. 

They are fed up with companies marketing to them badly. They understand the tricks and see through the cons. They are fed up. 

The reason behind this is that there has been so much bad direct marketing in the past and consequently people have switched off. 

So response levels are dropping. In all media. So what does the client do? Cut costs. What happens? The quality of the direct marketing gets worse. So the recipients turn off even more. 

It worries the hell out of me at the moment. It's a highway to nowhere. 

Another problem on client side is education. As I said earlier, people don't spend enough time studying the art of communication. This applies to clients as well as agencies. There are lots of books and case studies available on the subject. People have to understand what direct marketing actually means - a strategic move, a mindset. Marketing directors need to know that when committing to direct marketing programmes, they have to start by understanding direct marketing, what it is and what it can do. Only then can they start with setting long-term direct marketing objectives and strategies. 

Ana: Giving a presentation yesterday and attending a congress for two days, what is your opinion about the direct marketing industry in Slovenia? 

What is happening in Slovenia is very, VERY exciting. I feel that I am at the birth of direct marketing here. I feel a real heartbeat. 

I have been in Slovenia twice before this congress giving presentations in Ljubljana. At that time people were listening, smiling and writing down everything I said, but they applied very little. But yesterday I had a feeling that amongst all the people in the presentations but seemed keen to implement effective strategies as soon as possible. This clearly shows that the marketplace is beginning to understand the importance of direct marketing. 

I was present at the birth of direct marketing in the UK nearly 3 decades ago. A lot of knowledge has been gained and a lot of mistakes have been made since then. Slovenia can take advantage of all this knowledge and grow the industry in the correct way. 

Ana: CRM is the latest buzzword in marketing. At least in Slovenia. I attended your presentation at the IDMF in London last week where you surprisingly said that CRM is bullshit. And the title of your article which can be found on your website is "CRM, don't make me laugh". Could you please explain what do you mean by this? 

Andy: First thing that people have to understand is, that if you do not understand direct marketing, you cannot do CRM. CRM is vastly overvalued. It is just another term for sophisticated database marketing. 

It's recognising the power of the customer. Keeping in touch. Making them feel loved. 

You cannot run before you can walk. If you try it, you'll fall over. That's what's happened in the UK and the USA. A lot of people have fallen over. What's more, it has been an expensive fall. Fortunes have been wasted on CRM. Makes me laugh. It was always going to happen. 

Ana: The toughest decision clients face when starting to implement direct marketing seems to be whether to do this in-house or to hire a specialised direct marketing agency. What would be Andy's reaction to this? 

Andy: The client has to be honest. "Do we have the necessary talent in house?" If not, outsource. It's not rocket science. Don't be a penny pincher, because it will rebound and bite you in the ass. Here's an example. Take the writing of a direct mail letter. Chances are, I would write a much better letter than a client's team would. But, I will cost a lost more. 

However, it is not about what it costs, it is what it delivers. Simple mathematics. 

Ana: Very often, UK's retailer Tesco is a role model when it comes to implementing loyalty programs... 

Tesco is out on its own in the UK supermarket industry. It took a lot of bravery and a lot of investment when they started their loyalty programme. A lot of their competitors laughed at them. Not any more. That visionary decision took them from nowhere to the number one position in a fiercely competitive retail market. Why? They used the value of data to create a communications programme to increase the customer's benefit and to increase their profit. 

It did both. In spades... 

They hold sophisticated data on each customer - what she/he buys on which days and how much she/he spends. Consequently they are able to use this information to target those customers with relevant offers they are likely to be interested in. The value of the customer is what counts. Retail programmes can be hugely successful if done in a right way. It is all about telling your customer how much you love them and influencing them to come back in the right way.. 

With the purchasing promiscuity that exists these days, retailers have to be brave; they have to be prepared to make the necessary investment in an effective communications programme. No one gets rich when a customer visits a shop one time only. They get rich if that customer returns and keeps on returning. 

If the right level of investment is made, the returns will come, but it's not instant. It will take a little time. So tell your Financial Director to relax. If that's possible... 

Ana: And the future of direct marketing lies in... 

The future of direct marketing is immense. Customers are becoming more and more individual. Target audiences are getting smaller. You can now break a customer list into 5 segments, 25 groups and even overlay other stuff on top. Niche markets are now the trend. And direct marketing is the only approach that can take advantage of this situation. 

It has to be recognised that people do not want to hear from us. The shutters are coming down, more people are joining the 'do not mail' and 'do not call' lists. SMS is also feeling the backlash and similar lists are appearing for that now. 

The future is clear. And, the more those shutters come down, the more the skills of the direct marketers are important. Remember this. The traditional agency copywriter is a storyteller. The direct marketing copywriter is a salesman. 

Because they have to be. 

To conclude, direct marketing will only grow in importance. But people have to take it seriously and study and learn. Do this from listening, reading and of course, testing. Nothing else will do.