October 1, 2014

Dad’s old-school marketing lessons for today

old-school-marketing-lessons-todayMaybe father knows best after all.

When it comes to marketing savvy, mine did.

He also had a way of repeating himself that could drive a kid crazy. I heard the same stories, the same platitudes over and over again. It’s a wonder I don’t need special glasses from all the eye rolling I did growing up.

But when I went to work at his marketing agency the eye rolling stopped. Here is that story:

In 1971 dad launched a direct marketing agency. I was 10 years old then and didn’t really understand what that was. Marketing? I figured it had something to do with the advertising I saw in magazines.

In the early days, I would wake up in the morning and find him sitting in his recliner writing feverishly on a yellow legal pad. The smell of stale coffee and cigarettes told me he had already been working for hours.

Then he would get up from the chair, dress for work and head to his office by 7:30. That was the extent of what I knew about dad’s marketing agency.

Until the summer of 1981.

Ten years later I was a freshman in college. The country was coming out of a recession. And I had a broken ankle. My summer job prospects were dim. So dad hired me to intern as a graphic designer, and “gopher”.

It was a great experience. I went to photo shoots. I went to press checks at print shops. And I discovered what all of those yellow pad scribblings were about: the creation of marketing proposals, marketing plans and marketing copy.

I saw how dad turned ideas into direct marketing programs. There was a lot of planning and work that went into making it all happen. And dad did it all.

I saw enough to decide it wasn’t the kind of work I wanted to do. I wanted to be a commercial artist.

So I thought.

I never did finish my art degree. I switched to journalism instead. And in 1989 I joined dad full time at the marketing agency. In those six years at his knee I got a lifetime of learning. True to form, I heard many of his marketing maxims over and over again.

You know what? Many of them served me well in the decades that followed. And they still hold true in the digital marketing world today. Here are three that stuck:

“Nothing happens until a sale is made”

Driving results and growing sales revenue is always more important the doing award-winning creative work. In the agency world it’s easy to forget that.

Cutting my teeth in direct marketing was a blessing for me. It instilled the discipline of tracking response rates and sales metrics that are the lifeblood of online marketing. The end goal is always to grow sales.

To that end, it is also an important reminder that sales and marketing need to work together as a team. Throughout my marketing career my focus has been to generate leads and help the sales team succeed in closing the sale. Because nothing happens until a sale is made.

David A Olson

My dad, 1985

“Your customer is your best prospect”

So much marketing activity is focused on acquiring new customers, it’s easy to forget the referral and cross-selling opportunities you have with existing customers. Dad was quick to remind clients of this pot of gold.

Every marketing strategy we proposed had a key customer component. We specialized in customer loyalty and relationship building direct mail programs. The sales reps loved them.

For good reason.

The ongoing customer communications were a great ice-breaker for the reps when they called on customers. It kept the relationship vital and helped to facilitate sales conversations.

Today social media gives us a real-time channel for making these kinds of connections. Dad could not have anticipated this kind of customer engagement. But the principle is as true today, on digital channels, as ever.

“The old is forever new”

I’m sure dad didn’t coin this phrase. But I heard him say it so often I have to attribute it to him based on years of repetition. He dusted it off recently when I was telling him about content marketing and brand journalism.

He was doing both in the 1970s, pre-internet.

He was one of the early direct marketers to publish industry newsletters to B2B customers and prospects. The newsletters bypassed trade publications to tell brand stories directly to the target audience in a journalistic writing style.

There were no blogs, and it wasn’t called content marketing. But his editorial approach was the same used by brand journalists today.

Dad has been retired for quite a few years now. When I tell him about Twitter or blogging or social media, it is hard for him to comprehend how much the landscape has changed. But many of the marketing lessons he taught me live on in the digital world.

Do you need help publishing content that gets more customers and sales? I can help! Message me and I will be glad to schedule some time to chat on the phone.
2 comments
digitaljgo
digitaljgo moderator

@Frank_Strong Thanks Frank. I've always found it amazing how many businesses invest so much into growing by getting new customers while letting existing customers fall away. It's economic insanity. I appreciate your taking the time to comment!