Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Context Rules Marketing, Too

Direct marketing is a three-legged stool: Audience, Offer, and Content. But context still matters, maybe more than any of the other three.

In a previous post, I mentioned an old gig I had at Cornerstone Brands, a direct marketing company/retailer. Their flagship brand is Frontgate, which offers high-quality functional items for affluent homeowners. The tagline for Frontgate is Outfitting America’s Finest Homes.

During my six-year tenure there, we used several tactics for customer acquisition outside of the bread-and-butter list exchanges. One example provides an illustration of the power of context over content.

Occasionally we would find a remnant advertising opportunity. Remnant advertising essentially means that somebody had backed out of a contract or a publication had more editorial for a specific edition than they had sold ad space to support. You could buy this space at extreme discounts if you were able to provide art (and a check) on short notice.

We used this tactic off and on throughout my tour of duty there and one rule was never broken: PR outperformed advertising on an ROI basis every single time.


Public Relations professionals might say that the third-party credibility of an editorial mention always out performs an ad. That’s valid, but we’re not talking multipliers, here. I’m talking orders of magnitude.

We’d run an ad for, say … a pool float. We’d get a sweet, sweet deal on some remnant space in, for example, the A section of the Wall Street Journal. We’re on a high-traffic, right-hand-read spread.


Meanwhile, on the same day we get a mediocre review of the same product in the D section: WSJ Weekend. Suddenly, inventory planners hated me because we couldn’t keep pool floats in stock.



Same audience. Same offer. Less compelling and even slightly negative content.

More sales.

Sure, good ol’ third-party cred plays a role. But the bigger factor is context.

1. No matter how qualified somebody is as a consumer, when they’re reading the A section of the Wall Street Journal, they’re thinking about their money.

2. No matter what kind of a week they’ve had in the market, when they’re reading the Weekend section of the Wall Street Journal, they’re thinking about their home. Or their second home. Or their third home.

They’re In Context.

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