Feeding frenzy in Toronto

The following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct marketing. Alternating columnists are Barbara Canning Brown, a leading figure in the Canadian direct marketing industry, and David Foley, a specialist in database marketing programs.Strategy also...

The following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct marketing. Alternating columnists are Barbara Canning Brown, a leading figure in the Canadian direct marketing industry, and David Foley, a specialist in database marketing programs.

Strategy also invites other news items or column submissions for this section. Enquiries should be directed to Mark Smyka, editor, (416) 408-2300.

What do you do when the final game of the World Series, a federal election and about 10,000 American direct marketers all hit town at the same time?

Exciting weekend

That was the dilemma for many Canadian sports fans, voters and direct marketers the second last weekend in October when the u.s.-based Direct Marketing Association held its annual convention in Toronto. And a pretty exciting weekend it was.

The Toronto Blue Jays won, the Conservatives lost and direct marketers went on a feeding frenzy of seminars, trade show exhibits, keynote speakers and business/social events.

The last time the dma held an annual conference in Canada was in Montreal in the mid-1980s.

Fond memories

Many direct marketers had fond memories of Canada from that last stint and looked forward to their visit to Toronto this year.

At the same time, those who had not stopped here before betrayed their innocence by asking, ‘Will I have to speak French in Toronto?’ and ‘Do I have to change my money to Canadian francs?’

Without exception, the reaction I got from my American colleagues was rave reviews of the city – it is so clean, so beautiful, so modern, so sophisticated, and the people are so nice, so helpful, so accommodating, etc.

After all that praise, I, for one, took a fresh look around and said to myself, ‘Yes, they’re right, and I hadn’t noticed lately. Thanks for reminding me that bad as things may be, this is an okay place to live with the badness.’

Back to the conference.

Over 100 sessions

With more than 100 sessions to choose from, and 500 speakers, the conference could have quickly become overwhelming.

Admitting that the usual drift of innovation is from south to north, for me, the dma show is my annual chance to review the current trends in direct marketing.

1. The information super highway. If there was one session, there was a dozen on the advent of the electronic marketplace.

Interactive marketing was the buzzword of the week. The trick is to separate the hype from the ‘virtual’ reality.

Telephone and cable companies are now racing to rewire the country with fibre optics and digital compression to squeeze hundreds of tv channels through one cable.

On parallel courses are personalized electronic newspapers, small-dish satellite receivers, interactive tv and high definition tv.

What does it all mean? Simply that, with so many players and conflicting interests, it will be several years before the smoke clears.

2. Direct Response Television (drtv). Some traditional direct marketers are now successfully integrating infomercials, home shopping and spot tv into their entire media mix.

Those who once relied heavily on direct mail and print now use tv to build their businesses.

However, infomercials can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce and only about 15% of those produced last year succeeded.

Dolly Parton and Cher flogging cosmetics aside, quality, careful product selection, positioning and creative execution are the keys to success.

3. The intersection of direct marketing and sales promotion, or, Direct Marketing Meets Godzilla at the Grocery Store.


Traditional mass marketing techniques (Godzilla) still dominate consumer packaged goods industries.

However, low-cost systems that provide access to individual buying behavior data and individually targetted media have made direct marketing an impressive tool for targetting prospects in many trade and consumer categories, successful techniques for a growing number of consumer packaged goods brands.

4. The power of integrated marketing. This is not a new trend, but it is a continually changing one, given the opportunities developing technologies provide.

Call it the holistic approach to marketing – encompassing database technology, traditional research, sales promotion, video, in-store technologies, co-op advertising, salesforces, media, and more.

5. International expansion. The theory is, if you can market here, you can market anywhere.

Exporting formulas

Many direct marketing companies are taking what has worked for them in their home countries and exporting their formulas for success.

The key is to learn to tackle the postal laws and legal regulations, market trends, media and list issues, and, importantly, appropriate creative approaches.

6. Strategic alliances and joint ventures allow companies to use the resources of their partners, participate in different markets, hedge their bets and limit their risk in opening new markets and gaining new customers.

Win-win partnerships

All types of direct marketers are looking for – and creating – win-win partnerships – Spiegal and Time-Warner being a notable example.

Trend-setters or trend-watchers: for direct marketers it looks as if the rest of the ’90s are going to be almost as busy as the week in October that was a combination of passionate baseball, political bumpf and direct marketing delirium.

Oh yes, and thanks to the power of video, the personal powerhouse of infomercials himself, Anthony Robbins. Does he ever stop smiling?

Barbara Canning Brown, a 20-year veteran of the direct marketing industry, is a direct marketing consultant specializing in catalogues. She was named Direct Marketer of the Year in 1990.