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Interview for Khaleej Times

    1. "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, patronizing or demeaning. The remaining 1% is terrific work..." That's what your website banner says. My question is: if it's been happening for so long, why – and how – can it be changed now?

      Because it HAS to…

      The world is a tough place now.  Marketers have got to get more sales from less budget.  How on earth are they going to do that, when 99% of work produced, is total garbage?

      Our industry cannot continue wasting client’s money like it has in the last 20 years.  It is criminal.  That statistic should be a total embarrassment for anyone working in the communications business.

      Just imagine if only 1% of airplanes get to where they are suppose to go?  Just imagine if 1% of marriages worked?  Just imagine if 1% of Wayne Rooney’s shots on goal went in.  What would happen?

      The airline industry would fold.  Everyone would play around.  And Alex Ferguson would sell Rooney to Tranmere Rovers.

      I don’t know why it is, but there seems to be more charlatans and impostors in the advertising and marketing business than in any other.  But now, they are being found out.

      Agencies in the Middle East region think that advertising is about entertainment.

      It’s not.  It’s about SELLING!  There isn’t a client alive today that gives his valuable marketing budget to an agency, with the brief “Go and entertain my customers”

      Listen to what the legend David Ogilvy said on this very subject:

      “I keep on beating the drum for advertising that sells...and flogging those who think that advertising is entertainment.  I will go to my grave believing that advertisers want results and that the advertising business may go to its grave believing otherwise...”

      Yet in the Middle East, agencies continue to waste client’s money.  I see it every time I travel to the region.  The in-flight magazines are a laugh a minute for me. 

      Every couple of pages you’ll find an ad that is so bad, it defies logic.  The reason is very few professionals study the art of communication in the Middle East.  They still think pretty pictures sell. 

      They don’t by the way…its words that do the selling…

      There will be much more on this in the Masterclass…

      What is the "sharp end" of business?

      The coalface.  The trenches.  Getting a sale. 

      This is the area that direct marketers live in.  Remember, professional direct marketers are in the results business.  That’s what we do.  We are judged on results.

      And, because one to one marketing is completely different from mass marketing, we have to analyse the client challenge and brief in a much deeper way than normal agency people do.  We have to understand things like human psychology and why people buy.

      We stay closer to the front line.  And this approach will be invaluable in the next two years, because we will be able to deliver much more value and return on marketing investment to our clients, than the traditional advertising approach.

      You say that you help companies sell more. How is this a different selling point (or brand proposition) than other direct marketing consultancies? How do you differentiate yourself and your company's offerings?

      We are passionate direct marketers.  We STUDY our business at a level that is rare these days. We have found in the last 26 years, that the best way to get better at anything is STUDY. 

      And we TEST ruthlessly. 

      As a result, we understand how DM works and we produce effective work for our clients.  Work that makes them a TON of money.

      direct marketing is a specialist medium.  Yet, for some reason, non-qualified people think they understand it and can do it well.  Unfortunately, in the Gulf there is a lot of naiveté regarding direct marketing.

      Agencies say they can do it.  Yet very few can.  The trouble is, client companies don’t understand it either, so they can’t tell one way or another.  That’s why DM is pretty poor down here.

      Let’s face it, it has to be crazy for clients ask their above the line agency to create, say, some direct response ads or a direct mail pack.  Or their design agency for that matter.

      These people don’t have the basic knowledge to do these things.  But the client doesn’t understand it either.  So, we have a situation of the partially sighted, leading the blind.

      These days, you even get clients writing their own copy, instead of using a professional copywriter.  It’s totally bizarre.

      That’s why direct marketing right now, is now the worst I think I have ever seen in over 26 years in this business.

      You need to listen to people who understand DM.  It is a unique culture, nothing like traditional advertising and marketing.  After all, when you have toothache, you don’t go to the doctor do you?  You go to the dentist. 

      So when you want to do effective DM, go to a DM specialist. 

      Traditional agency copywriters (the storytellers) vs direct response copywriters (the salesmen): who would you recommend – and why? Is this the classic case of mind over matter?

      No, of course not.

      By and large, traditional agency copywriters produce storytelling copy.  This is their culture.  Their ads contain ‘telling’ copy.  Good direct marketers – people who have ‘tasted blood’ in direct response – produce ‘selling’ copy.  

      There is a massive difference.

      What you say is more important, than how you say it, as the great David Ogilvy told us, decades ago.

      The marketing battlefield we all face now is going to be tough and bloody. Getting a
      sale will be paramount, but harder than ever.

      Everything a company produces in promotional terms, from now on, has to bear this in mind. Clients and their advisors have to ask themselves this question when
      creating their next promotion:

      “What will my customer or prospect GAIN by responding to my communication? What will
      he/she EARN, MAKE, ENJOY or SAVE?”

      This must be the focus. Nothing else.

      And words will be a vital element in delivering these essential messages.

      But, they have to be the right words.

      Words that connect. Words that influence - and words that make people do positive things.

      Get rid of all the waffle and garbage. Things like “less is more”, “the best just got
      better”, “think, feel, drive” and other examples of useless verbiage, normally written by
      traditional copywriters – ‘wordstringers’ I call them - who have never worked at the
      very demanding coalface of response marketing.

      A professional direct response copywriter would never write such tosh. Because the
      pro’s recognise that every word is a weapon.

      These ‘wordstringers’ are storytellers. We are salesmen. Because we have to be…
      We know and recognise the power of words.

      There's an example of how when "How To Repair Cars" was changed to "How To Fix Cars", business actually went up. Explain the psychograph.

      The business didn’t just go up.  The response to the ‘fix ad was 20% greater!

      That is serious business.

      Using the right words in promotional communications is absolutely vital.  The professional writer knows this. As I have said earlier, we recognise the power of words. 

      So, we know that the word ‘fix’ is much more powerful than ‘repair’ because it suggests a complete solution

      When you fix anything, the problem has been solved.  The word repair is not so powerful as it could suggest a temporary solution.

      And that’s how the ad was interpreted by readers - and they reacted accordingly. 

      Headlines make ads work. And the best headlines offer benefit, relevance, give news or appeal to people's self-interest. Long headlines that say something
      nearly always outpull short headlines that say nothing.

      Every headline has one job. It must stop your prospects with a believable promise.

      Andy, what advice do you have to give to the marketplace at this time, when growth is down, morale has hit rock bottom, budgets are slashed and the future uncertain? If you had to sell something NOW, how would you do it? What tack would you employ to ensure that your selling point is still RELEVANT in these times?

      Firstly, recognise that the marketing battlefield has changed forever.

      The customer is now in charge.  What’s more, the customer knows it.

      The company isn’t in charge, the brand isn’t in charge, the corporate philosophy isn’t in charge.  The customer is not the slightest bit interested in the company, the brand and even less in the philosophy.

      The customer wants value.  The customer wants the best deal.  And if a company doesn’t provide it, that customer will go to someone who will.

      Recognise that, or die.  It’s as simple as that…

      So, the emphasis now, has to be on existing customers.  In times of downturn, it is your existing customers who will keep you warm.  But the trouble in Dubai is that
      most companies don’t know who their customers are. 

      Staggeringly, most companies don’t even own a database.

      Take retailers for example.  Bar for a couple of smart operators, most retailers in Dubai do not have a customer database.  They have enjoyed an amazing last few years of trading, but let people come into their store, buy product and leave without finding out who they were.

      In short, they don’t know who their customers are.

      How crazy is that?  Just imagine if they had all the information on a database right now.  They would be able to invite their best customers into the store for exclusive promotions and give those valued individuals something really special.

      But they can’t.

      This will have to change.  Not only for retailers, but for companies in all sectors.

      The customer is now king.  That customer is right to expect offers and deals from companies that he/she has done business with.  If those offers and deals aren’t made, that customer will go somewhere else and will never come back.

      How differently would you handle a one-off tactical campaign and a long-term one – to get the same result?

      It’s all down to the brief.  

      A tactical campaign is designed to make something happen now – like an invitation to a special store event, a one-off car auction, an exclusive restaurant offer and things like that. 

      How you approach that challenge, is entirely different to that of a strategic brief. 

      Very few companies and the people who run them in Dubai, think strategically. 

      That is one of the prime reasons that direct marketing hasn’t taken off down there, to the same extent it has all over the world.  There is more quality DM done in Eastern Europe than in the Gulf, which is rather odd, don’t you think?

      When you consider a strategic brief, you look at where you want to go and how you are going to get there.  It’s all about building blocks.

      Let’s continue the retailer story to show you what I mean.

      OK, you are a retail group in Dubai that are seeing a massive drop off on business.
      How can you address this strategically?  Well, firstly you have to accept that it is vital to know who your customers are.

      The brief is to have a detailed database of customers in 2 years.  So you run high profile events and use a variety of media options to drive people into your store.  You obtain the customer details.  Then you write to the customer with something of real value and get friends and family info too.

      Quickly, your database grows.  You repeat the exercise, but use direct mail a lot more to deliver exclusive and personal offers.  The database continues to grow.

      People start talking about you.  More people come into your stores.  Your database grows even more.

      See where this is going?  What happens is you can reduce your media spend as your database grows, because you can deliver your promotions using direct mail, or to a lesser degree, emails.

      It works.  I know, because I advise a number of retail groups and stores around the world.

      “The mass market is dead and will never return. In its place now, are smaller, more focused and defined marketplaces, themselves ever imploding…": If this is true, how do you explain that when it comes to the crunch (take the global slowdown, for instance), it's the discount stores that are raking it in as people shy away from the more niche – and therefore premium – sectors?

      The mass market is dead.  I know, because I was at its funeral many years ago. 

      People have always been and will always be, individuals.  Every one of us is unique, different, separate and apart from anyone else.

      Mass marketing methods cannot address this.

      Yet people still try.  Especially in the Middle East region.  Some of the advertising agencies in the area are dinosaurs.

      They don’t know how to address individuality, so they continue to waste client budgets on mass media.  And, staggeringly, they continue to suggest that this is the way to market, advertise and promote a product or service.

      It used to be like this in the USA and UK until the late 60’s.

      Then, the computer burst on to the scene. Rick Fizdale, Leo Burnett’s chairman, said, “The database will prove to be a more powerful marketing tool than television ever was”. 

      This echoed John Naisbitt’s comment in his book Megatrends, “The key to marketing in the future will not be primarily distribution, but information”.

      How many clients have good customer databases in the Middle East?  Literally a handful.  How many agencies recommend they build one?  You could probably count them on one hand. 

      I rest my case… 

      What you have to remember now, is this :

      • Our targets are individuals, not an amorphous mass
      • We have to test, find out what works best and fine tune
      • We must think strategically in marketing
      • It is vital to recognise that everything in the market today is about smaller and smaller, more defined and segmented interest groups”.

      That’s why mass marketing is dead…

      Any final comments to the readers, from Andy Owen about the forthcoming Masterclass– and any recommendations on classic DM books and websites?

      Let’s face it, things are going to get tough for all of us in the next couple of years.  

      So, come to my show on February 22nd at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and you’ll not only discover proven rules for success, but you’ll also be able to steal the very latest ideas to help you and your business prosper and grow, while others around you, wither and die.

      Here’s the event link:  www.andyowen.co.uk/middle-east

      See you there!

      Interview with Andy Owen
      in Birmingham, UK

      20th January 2009