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.

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Caith Chapman
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