A very short tall tale of mythical direct marketing proportion

Billy's company, HRsmack.com, recently developed a new product called EmpathSmackTrack - software for managing smarty-pants employees - and decides to launch a direct marketing email campaign to promote it.

Billy bites the bullet and buys a list rental of 5K HR decision makers from [insert list rental vendor name here] and creates what he believes to be a killer campaign creative.

He types up the subject line for [list rental vendor] and smiles. "Sweet," he thinks.

Complimentary Snacks for Every EmpathSmackTrack System Sold

Billy rubs his hand together and waits for the sales to roll in. Stacks of Little Debbie snack cakes and cookies surround him.

[End scene]

Can you guess? Billy's campaign failed miserably. Not one sale. So Billy blames the vendor saying the list stinks and tries again with another vendor. Same result.

Blame. New Campaign. Blame.

We've sent millions of emails to our list of over 80K HR decision makers. Yes, we can say millions now. What we've found is that most campaigns like Billy's - campaigns that are selling something straight up - usually fail and only increase our opt-in rate, thus reducing the value of our extremely valuable asset.

Hey, I know; we're in the list rental business amongst offering many other marketing products and services. We don't want to turn business away. We opt-in qualified HR decision makers all the time.

But listen, you just don't market to a "cold" list selling stuff, especially when you're an unknown commodity on the HR marketplace exchange.

The only exception would be large, well-established brands with enough equity to offset the cost of receiving little return. Meaning, they're paying to further their brand and maybe sell a little along the way.

We convey our "content marketing" best practices to every HR supplier that sending campaigns to our list. Some listen. Some don't.

After millions of emails and hundreds and hundreds of campaigns, one thing is clear:

Content marketing that is complimentary and includes offering white papers, research reports, articles, newsletters, blog posts, podcasts, webcasts, videos and very small rocks that spell out "here's some great information that you can use to improve your organization today, and there's more where that came from" always --

- Almost doubles the open rates in email campaigns compared to simply selling something.
- Improves the click-thru rates dramatically over the dismal clicks you get when selling something.

You are building familiarity and trust with regular credible content and thought leadership.

Whether you require registration for these content campaigns, or capture folks elsewhere on your site by their length of stay and exploration, the fact is for those "prospects" that are interested enough in exchanging their information for your content means you now are building a "house" list that you can and should be nurturing into your sales pipeline. Continue the content marketing to them as well over time (weeks to months depending on your average sales cycles).

And then and only then do you start selling EmpathSmackTrack software to them. Keep the snack cakes, though.

Selling stuff via cold direct marketing does not work, not even for paid seminars or events, and most HR suppliers will be sorely disappointed time and again with that approach and their dismal return. Sure there will always be rare exceptions in the HR B2B marketplace, but the keyword here is rare.

Now, put on those marketing smarty pants and meet HRmarketer at HR Tech next week for a Tweetup!

We're sponsoring the HR Tech exhibitor lounge again this year wish all our clients and members the best of luck! All you HR pros should stop by our HR Vendor Phonebook booth #937 and with 1 of 5 "Night on the Chi-town" gift cards!

(This direct marketing post inspired by Starr Tincup's hilarious Salesman Closes Deal with Help From No One.)

Post by Kevin W. Grossman (join me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn)

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