There Are No Absolutes in DR

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself in the midst of a few heated debates about some seemingly absolute statements made in and about the direct response industry. I like to think of myself as an early adopter to technology, so it was not lost on me that I was defending some older technologies. The point here is not about technology, but rather the assumptions people make about global truths.

The arguments included the following:

  1. Consumer response (note, not viewing but actual response) has shifted online, and no one responds via phone anymore.
  2. You can’t make money using short-form media.
  3. TV and the DVD business are dead.

Bottom line, there are components of each of these statements that are true, some more than others. And even if I would argue that these statements are less true than more, the real point is that they have to be taken in context. Just as some tests work for some marketers and not others (or as we have seen at Beachbody, for some of our brands but not others within our portfolio), one tenet that we’ve learned about direct response is that there are no absolutes, nothing that is true 100 percent of the time.

As to the above statements, while more people are online than ever before, it is not necessarily the case that consumer response has shifted online to the complete exclusion of the phone channel. At least not for our brands here at Beachbody. We have some campaigns where the majority of orders come on the phone, and others where the majority of orders come online. Neither is necessarily a good or bad thing. It depends on our goals, and really it’s the rate / response equation relative to those goals that determines whether it’s a good or bad thing. Yes, consumers are online to research and sometimes to buy our products, but there are factors that can influence that decision, both based on the consumer’s individual preferences and how the marketer might presents each option during their CTA.

Next, regarding short-form TV media not being profitable. Again, what is the context? For some marketers who drive to retail, it may be true that looking at only phone and web orders would not make the campaign profitable, but once you add in retail orders (to the extent tracked back to media) then those campaigns may be profitable. From our side at Beachbody, because of our network marketing business, we do not have products at retail in the U.S., but we have been able to make some short-form campaigns work (meaning they are profitable) solely via phone and online. And yes, we have been unsuccessful with others; that is the nature of this business.

Finally, the demise of TV and DVDs. They are somewhat different points, but I’ll address both here because just like the phone, they get grouped together as legacy technologies. While it is true that the DRTV model has gotten more difficult than it used to be, there is no question that it is still a viable media platform. There is a huge difference between “more difficult” and “impossible.” The same goes for DVDs. Yes, an increasing number of consumers prefer content digital-only, but that does not mean the DVD business is dead.

Bottom line, whether you are a marketer using direct response television or digital media, in the DVD business or housewares, short-form drive-to-retail or short-form drive-to-web only, nothing is an absolute within a category let alone across them.

Question everything, use tests and quantifiable information to make decisions, knowing there is no such thing as perfect information, and then dig in to optimize. This is neither a simple business to execute nor a simple business model to understand. It is always evolving—pay attention to the shifts, but the key is to figure out what is relevant and works for your business, and then maximize the heck out of it.

Direct response as a model is only growing. Pretty soon, it won’t be referred to as a niche business model but instead as a smart way to run a business—spend, track and measure, analyze, then optimize.

Just be careful about making statements that are absolutes, in any direction. Without getting too philosophical, the world doesn’t work that way. And certainly the direct response industry doesn’t either.

The need for cheat days (and I’m not just talking about your diet)

I think most people know what a cheat day is – you’re on a stricter-than-normal diet, it’s tough to hold out and restrict yourself 100% of the time, so you allow yourself a day to cheat.  Which can mean a lot of different things – eat anything for one meal, a day, etc.  But the point is that, whether you want to say it’s a human thing or just our society, it’s really hard to stay on a highly-regimented and restrictive program every single day of the year.

Not to say there aren’t good reasons – work dinners, travel, time, etc.  But the point is that cheat days provide a ton of value for people on a diet, sometimes actually contributing to a person’s goal (for example weight loss), if only because they know there’s a cheat day coming in their future.

What I found interesting, however, is what I heard in a mastermind group I’m a part of.  One of the guys is an entrepreneur, his business is growing and so he has hired people to take on many of the responsibilities he used to do himself.  Including sales.  He knows intellectually that there are certain areas of his business where he should not spend time – whether others are better or simply that it’s a poor ROI relative to where he could be working (or not at all depending on what he values).

But he also feels both that he just simply likes sales and that it keeps him connected to leads.  So what he has done is apportioned one day per month that he terms a cheat day – where he works on whatever he wants, which is primarily sales.  Just like a diet, it satiates his desire to do something that he knows he probably shouldn’t.  But it’s not so involved that it costs him significant value.

For some folks, the context might be the business realm, for others (but definitely not me) it’s about about feeling relaxed when folding laundry when you could get the corner laundromat to do it for pretty darn cheap.  It could be anything.

I thought this was a really cool concept, especially since I have more than one area of my life where I know “the better” thing to do, but I’d also like to not have to give up that “other thing” 100%.  So why do so?  Why feel like I’m always tapping into my willpower to restrain myself from something when I can allow myself a cheat moment – do enough where it’s not gnawing at me but not so much that everything gets screwed up.

And frankly, I think the chances of sticking with that “better thing” actually increase if it’s not all or nothing.

Thinking 3 Days Out

It’s pretty common on my business trips that I head out after dinner with friends, colleagues or vendors to a bar or club.  And until recently, those nights usually ended a good deal later than normal, and certainly later than my body would’ve preferred.  But a couple weeks ago, on a trip out to Miami, I made a very conscious decision each of the 3 nights I spent there, to get to bed at a decent hour.

Later that week, when I got back to town, I knew that I had a really busy schedule. Not to mention, my wife was taking care of our son and is pregnant, so already tired; and she definitely didn’t want to hear about my reasons for being exhausted.

I found myself saying to people when I was heading to bed, “I’d love to go out tonight but I’m just thinking 3 days out.  Yes, it’s three days out, but I can’t afford to be suffering for the next couple days in the hope that I’m recovered 3 days out.”

And then I came to realize after the trip, that that state of thinking a few days out was becoming a habit, in 2 ways.  First, I am continually thinking about what’s coming, not just what’s immediately in front of me, but what’s out a few days. And whether that affects what I eat or drink, or just how I prep, what’s happening a few days out is affecting my behavior.  Second, there’s a realization, especially when it comes to food and drink, that the immediate gratification or feeling I get is far outweighed by how I want to feel afterwards – with food, sometimes it’s a matter of feeling horrible immediately after eating way too much.  And alcohol, well, that doesn’t need much explaining.

Sure, a good amount of this shift has come from getting older, having more responsibilities, etc. but that doesn’t make it any less relevant or important.  It has, in fact, caused me to re-examine my daily decisions and at least be more conscious of the longer-term impact of those decisions.

Life is certainly about moments, but that doesn’t mean that maximizing this exact moment should trump future ones.