In the advertising world, "targeting" is a buzz word. Everyone is talking about how they can better target their advertising and streamline their message. Of course, in advertising, targeting makes sense, if you can focus your message only on those most interested in hearing it, not only do you save money by not blasting your message to deaf ears, but you can repeat your message more often to those who might actually buy the product. So, targeting not only makes good business sense, but good advertising sense.
This trend of targeting can be found all around you. Speciality newspapers, cable television channels, trade publications and sectionalized Web sites are all examples of media producers targeting their content so advertisers can better target theirs.
In fact, every major vehicle of advertising has caught on to the idea of targeting. Even junk mailers have learned to target by zip code. In fact, the only major form of advertising not the least bit interested in targeting is, you guessed it, telemarketing.
Telemarketing has traditionally, and continues to largely, be content to call everyone in the phone book. In fact, in an attempt to make sure they don't miss anyone, telemarketers will start calling exchanges starting XXX-0000 and working their way through XXX-9999, hawking their wares every step of the way ignoring busy signals, hang ups and disconects as they go.
In fact, where other forms of advertising have invested a great deal of money to improve their targeting, telemarketing has invested money to fight it.
The first great example of this came with the invention of the telezapper. The wildly popular device, which retailed for about fifty dollars, tricked telemarketing computers into thinking that the number was deactivated. So, when telemarketing firms found out that millions of Americans didn't want their message so bad they were willing to invest fifty dollars of their hard-earned money to block it, did they realize that these people weren't good prospects and move on? No. They dumped millions into inventing a means to work around the telezapper and continue harassing the very people that wanted to hear from them the absolute least.
More recently, the telemarketing industry has sued, apparently successfully, to halt the federal "Do Not Call" list, for which some 50 million numbers were registered. The list, which industry leaders said would cost millions of dollars and thousands of jobs, provided stiff penalties to corporations that "cold called" numbers placed on the list.
While I can certainly understand the industry's desire to be free of unnecessary government legislation, as an advertising man, the question becomes clear, "What's the big deal? Why do you want to call these people in the first place? And what advertiser in his right mind would want to spend money contacting people that are going to be angry to hear from them?"
It's simple, no one would. All that doing that would achieve is creating a great deal of animosity toward the product and perhaps turn a lot of people away from it, people that otherwise might have considered it. There's simply no reason why calling "Do Not Call" subscribers is in the best interest of the advertiser.
However, it's clearly in the best interest of the telemarketer.
Telemarketing companies are paid by advertisers to promote a product. However, the company doesn't simply sign over a check to the company and hope for the best, they want something in return. That's why advertisers pay telemarketing firms on a combination of comission fees and per-call fees.
Years ago, comission fees were the bread and butter of telemarketing firms. The pennies made per call seemed like peanuts compared to the dollars that can be made from every sale. But, while this resulted in some high-pressure tactics being employed, it kept call volumes relatively low. There simply wasn't much benefit in calling people randomly and much of the focus was placed on previous customers, by far the best target for a sales pitch.
However as telemarketing became more common it became more irritating and fewer and fewer people started buying from the phones. In fact, a recent CNN poll found that less than 1% of people even considred buying things from telemarketers. Furthermore, companies not selling products over the phone, but rather, just promotising existing ones, began to join the fray. The result, comissions began to slip and that "per call" fee became more and more appealing.
Over time, the goal of telemarketing changed from trying to call a few people and make a lot of sales to calling a lot of people and treating comissions like bonuses. Where once the people making the calls were paid more or less on comission alone, now many, if not most, get paid per call with a comission bonus.
But while the pay-per-call system makes more sense for telemarking firms, after all, they don't want to go broke trying to earn comissions on a product no one wants, it makes very little sense for marketers. It's similar to running an ad on every television station in the nation when you only need to target a small market. But what it means is that well-meaning advertisers pay good money for a message to fall on deaf ears, ears that the telemarketers know don't want to hear what they have to say.
So basically, not only do telemarketers not care if they're interrupting you while you are eating dinner, doing work, taking a shower or a million other private activities, but they don't care if advertisers that support them get a bum wrap. All they want is a hearty check.
That's why, as bad as I feel for myself and the throngs of masses that have to endure the annoying phone calls, I feel almost as bad for the advertisers shelling out money. Most advertisers are small-business owners that just want an inexpensive way to promote their products to a lot of local citizens. This is why calls for vinyl siding, landscaping and gutter repair are so common.
These businessmen, while often very talented in their trade, lack the advertising knowledge to understand the pitfalls of direct marketing and they also lack the money to hire a regular ad agency or use more traditional advertising effectively. After all, for the same price as a few low-budget local TV ads that will only reach a small percentage of the target audience, telemarketers can call almost everyone in the area. To an inexperienced advertiser, this is very tempting.
And, on the surface, it can seem to work. It will, invariably, move some product and seem to pay for itself. However, when others refuse to try the product/service simply becuase they first heard about it via telemarketer or the company lacks the funds to move onto traditional advertising, growth is stiffled and the advertiser has to return to the telemarketer again and again to sustain sales, constantly targeting that 1% that buys over the phone while irritating the 99% that don't.
In their defence, some telemarketers have realized this fact and made some attempt to weed out people that don't want their calls. The Direct Marketing Association (The DMA), a trade group for telemarkters and direct mailers, has run their own version of the Do-Not-Call list for several years. While being on the list has definitely reduced the number of calls I have gotten, since it only applies to members of the DMA, which many telemarkters, especially local ones, aren't, it hasn't kept the phones silent. I still receive several calls per week despite being on the list and taking full advantage of current "do Not Call" legislaiton. Simply put, their efforts at self-regulation have proven ineffective and furthermore, since they're a plaintiff in the lawsuit to stop the federal list, their gestures now seem very hollow.
Simply put, telemarketing should have gone the way of the dodo years ago. Much like door-to-door salesmen, it's an ineffective form of promotion that is intrusive and irritating. The only thing keeping it alive at all is the throngs of telemarketers that are far better at promoting their own services than other people's products. The proof of that is in their approach and the companies that engage in it.
After all, you don't see Microsoft or IBM promoting via the phone. If it was truly the best way to push their wares, don't you think they would?
Give that some thought the next time you hang up the telephone on another annoying call. After all, odds are you're not the only one getting a bad deal out of telemarketing. In fact, I doubt you're even getting the worst.