6 Digital Age Lessons from a Bankrupt Direct Mailer

6 Digital Age Lessons from a Bankrupt Direct Mailer

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I spent my formative professional years working for a direct-marketing leader, Columbia House, whose latest incarnation recently filed for bankruptcy. Failing fast? Not really. It took 20 years from peak revenue to bankruptcy. Lessons learned? Plenty. Here are a few important ones that are fresher than ever 15 years after I left the company. I hope they resonate with you.

1. Digital Media Should Build a Learning Culture
In my years at Columbia House, I fell in love with direct-response marketing and learned far more than I bargained for. Direct marketers are the original data-driven marketing geeks. Growth hacking? Just a trendy name for a skillset we perfected years ago.

Our unflinching focus on what is measurable forces direct marketers to accept being wrong a lot. The best ideas of the smartest or most senior people in the room are always subject to being proven wrong by the data. This is humbling. We live the truth behind those witty quotations about learning more from your mistakes than from your successes.

In other words, evidence-based marketing forces us to cultivate a learning culture. Like all marketers, we are, at our best, thoughtful students of human nature. We bring all kinds of curiosity to the task of understanding what the data is trying to tell us. In the process, we are constantly reminded that it’s all about understanding the customer, and not so much about us.

Digital Take-away: We’re all direct (digital) marketers now – at least to some degree. With the focus on Big Data, social media, real-time dashboards, and marketing automation, take a deep breath, pause a second and ask yourself what you’re learning from this whole circus. Warren Buffett is doing fine without a Bloomberg terminal on his desk. No kidding! Think about that.

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  • If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.