Strategy Session: Making Mail More Relevant
Back in 1992, I received a phone call from the late Walter Schmidt, who was interested in having me present at the Montreux Symposium in Switzerland. Montreux was not only one of the most beautiful cities in Switzerland, nestling on Lake Geneva and dwarfed by the magnificent Swiss Alps—it was also home to the world's leading direct marketing conference.
Schmidt challenged me to "present something provocative—something that will really make people sit up and think." So I created my first international presentation, called "The Death of Direct Mail."
I compared direct mail to a dinosaur, doomed to extinction, and the comparison seemed apt. The dinosaurs may have gotten too big to survive; direct mail already had grown to a point where the average American received more than 40 pounds of it a year. If you bought from a catalog, you received much, much more ...
The dinosaurs couldn't adapt to a changing environment, and direct mail was in the same conundrum. It was an environmental catastrophe, as this was well before we started using recycled paper and thinking "green." The dinosaurs' brains were too small, and they couldn't adapt. I pointed out that almost every media had changed and evolved as time wore on—except for
As I wrote the first part of the speech, I became more and more depressed. Was direct mail really doomed? Was it time to explore another line of work?
I was determined to make the second part of the speech all about the ways we could ensure that direct mail remained relevant and rewarding.
The speech was well-received, and, of course, direct mail continued to thrive and even grow. Some people felt I had overdramatized the problems, and there was little need for us to worry. But because this was in 1992, I left out something very important.