Direct mail’s last laugh: Nordstrom and the danger of marketing trends

Last week, co-president Erik Nordstrom admitted that the brand recently abandoned the use of direct mail in promoting its loyalty program. Results show that following marketing trends may not always be the way to go.
direct mail marketing trends

The cyclical nature of certain trends is intriguing.

It works like this:

  1. Something is hot for a while. The mainstream populous becomes obsessed with it and it’s a hit. It’s featured on every fun-loving syndicated news program during “slow news days” and late-night talk show hosts shoehorn it into their monologues. In short, no one can shut up about it.
  2. The fad “jumps the shark”. Once this fad becomes the thing that “everybody is doing”, it loses its luster. The masses gradually grow tired of hearing about this thing that has been hot for a while. Soon, your grandmother is even hip to this new trend and suddenly it doesn’t seem as cool as it once was. Chatter about the fad dies down and those who are “in the know”, move onto something else.
  3. The fad becomes a laughing-stock. After a momentary lapse of mention within the mainstream conversation, the old fad becomes so old, that it’s unthinkable someone would still be talking about it, or perish the thought, endorsing it. It becomes the subject of parody and is lambasted as out-of-vogue or antiquated. It’s written into sitcoms and late-night talk show hosts shoehorn it into their monologues.
  4. Rebirth. After a certain period of time and everyone has forgotten about this fad, through some strange, arbitrary set of circumstances, one free-thinker rediscovers the trend and dares to go against the grain. It’s reborn as an iconic, retro, novelty of the past that everyone remembers fondly.

There are several examples you can point to that have followed this pattern: mom jeans, cassette players, Pokémon, fondue, shag rugs and platform shoes.

It goes without saying that this obviously isn’t true of all fads. Some of them are never resurrected. There are several examples you can point to that have not followed this pattern: pet rocks, leisure suits, Tamagotchis, mullets and CDs.

It would seem, from a bystander’s perspective, that you can judge which fads really were significant during their initial time in the spotlight based on whether or not they ever see a new life, post-death.

Direct Mail is being Reborn

To say direct mail ever truly died (or even to characterize it as a trend) is a stretch, for sure. Direct mail marketing has always been utilized by business owners. However, the way it’s been talked about over the years with the emergence of new, constantly changing digital platforms has definitely duped lazy marketers into believing that that was the case.

In terms of the ongoing marketing conversation, direct mail has been experiencing a lot of limelight over the past year. It’s almost as if it never existed! Several articles like the one here that *ahem* we put out in January of this year are still being posted in May.

Direct mail for 2019

The way in which savvy marketers are utilizing the tried and true medium has changed. By integrating direct mail with their digital strategy, major brands are flocking back to the direct mail train with a seemingly insatiable vengeance.

This is most likely a result of digital fatigue on the part of consumers. Direct mail is tangible, and it’s not something we’re seeing on a near constant basis so there’s an inviting, authentic aura surrounding a well thought-out direct-mail piece with a compelling offer.

Case in point: Nordstrom loses sales as a result of terminating their direct mail program

As the incomparable Otis Redding so wisely said, you don’t miss your water until your well runs dry.

This is definitely the case for Nordstrom. And direct mail was most certainly more than just a drop in the bucket for the clothing brand.

Last week, co-president Erik Nordstrom admitted that the brand recently abandoned the use of direct mail in promoting its loyalty program. The decision was made in an attempt to get the loyalty program online and expedite the amount of time it takes to reach customers.

To Mr. Nordstrom’s chagrin, the brand experienced weaker-than-expected first quarter results due to what one can only determine was the elimination of their trusty direct mail follow-ups. Their total revenue fell 3.3% below their estimated profits for the first quarter and earned 23 cents per share, which is 20 cents less than previous projections.

Obviously, it’s anybody’s guess how the decision to eliminate direct mail from Nordstrom’s marketing strategy came to fruition. One can speculate, however, that it could be the case that someone who relies heavily on marketing trends heard they should put all their chips on digital and missed the memo that direct mail is on the up-swing (despite the fact that it was never really on the down-swing).

Therein lies the danger of taking marketing trends as anything beyond what they are at face-value – somebody’s opinion.

Trends aren’t real

The story of Nordstrom can be thought of as a cautionary tale about marketing trends. It’s important to stay informed as a marketer. This means reading about what’s hot, what’s not, what’s out, what’s in, what’s new, etc. But the most important factor to pay attention to is why and how.

The facts, figures and most importantly the numbers never lie. In contrast, people lie all the time. So, relying on anything other than empirical data to inform your marketing strategy is a fool’s game. The fact of the matter is, direct mail has always worked – people just stopped talking about it for a period of time.

Be a free and independent thinker when it comes to marketing and don’t be duped by fads. Always trust your gut, always go against the grain (if the numbers are there) and never take someone’s word for it when they say direct mail is dead.

Ready to see how to put direct mail to work for your business? Contact us or give us a call at 800.926.2451 today!

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