Lester Wunderman’s vision for interactive marketing
Before interactive marketing, there was Lester Wunderman.
He is an advertising legend who pioneered direct marketing. He defined it, named it and launched it into a new marketing discipline that transformed modern advertising. For that, he is recognized as the father of direct marketing.
His accomplishments and contributions to the marketing industry cannot be overstated. In the decades that preceded the Internet, he envisioned a degree of consumer engagement and interactivity we are realizing today.
Defining a new marketing
In the early 1960s, Wunderman conceived a new approach to what was then known as mail order marketing, or direct mail marketing. He observed a shift in consumer preference for having a personal, direct contact with the manufacturer of products, and a shift away from intermediary channels of distribution. He described this as a “system of interactive transactions that would restore a measure of dialog and human scale to the way we made, sold and bought things.”
He viewed this system as more than a direct mail channel. He began calling it direct marketing.
In a historic speech at MIT in 1967, he outlined his ideas and gave birth to a new industry. He tells the fascinating story of preparing and delivering the presentation in his book Being Direct. He made the case for a new direct marketing that is comprised of several broad-based characteristics:
- It is a strategy, not a tactic
- It is where advertising and buying become a single affair
- It eliminates intermediaries in distribution and communication channels
- It creates dialogs between buyer and seller
- It builds dialogs into enduring relationships
- It is personal, relevant, interactive and measurable
In the decades that followed, he oversaw the advent of the direct marketing industry and put these principles into practice.
Inventing new media
While working with clients whose appetite for media couldn’t be satisfied by conventional direct mail alone, Wunderman pioneered new media to reach consumers directly. Some of these innovations include:
- The now-ubiquitous magazine subscription card
- Preprinted newspaper inserts
- Inbound 800 phone numbers to sell magazine subscriptions on TV and radio
- Introduction of the ‘virtual store’
All of these were revolutionary approaches for interacting with consumers directly as they moved further upstream in the buying process. These ideas were limited only by the technology of the time. However, the concepts hold true for interactive marketing today. In his book, Wunderman said of that time:
I was certain that consumer-initiated advertising was going to work in the future as more interactive media became available.
Technology has caught up with his vision. We can now interact on the Web in many ways: websites, social media, email and mobile. In anticipation of these new media platforms, Wunderman created “The Consumer’s Communication Bill of Rights” for the second edition of his book. It offers his time-tested wisdom for online engagement.
The vision for digital marketing
Wunderman’s vision is still aspirational for interactive marketers. We have powerful new media to reach customers and prospects, but continue to work through the challenges to deliver on their expectations. His “Bill of Rights” points to many of those challenges:
- Being transparent and authentic, and letting go of controlling the message
- Capturing data that enables more relevant, valuable exchanges without invading privacy
- Understanding the acceptable frequency of communications
- Telling relevant brand stories that inform, not self-promote
- Having conversations with consumers that establish respect and likeability
- Building relationships through meaningful engagement, not wasted activities
- Making it easy for consumers to interact and buy
- Keeping communications succinct
These are worthy pursuits rooted in the fundamentals learned in the decades that came before. As he has throughout his professional life, Lester Wunderman has provided a blueprint. His vision for creating the direct marketing industry extends all the way into today’s digital world.