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Direct Response Marketing

Getting Better Every Day

1 Apr, 2014 By: Thomas Haire Response

Marina Randolph and her team have transformed Murad’s marketing efforts and redefined how direct response can fit at the center of an omnichannel universe.

“I love telling traditional brands that are coming into the direct response space, ‘Forget what you know and be willing to listen,’” says Marina Randolph, executive vice president of direct for El Segundo, Calif.-based Murad Inc., America’s first modern clinical doctor’s skincare brand. “On the other side, the way most direct response marketers define their brands is as a ‘hit’ show. If people on both sides can learn from each other, there’s so much ‘win’ to be had as these two worlds come together.”

Randolph joined the 25-year old company about three years ago, understanding that its brand was strong and its belief in direct response as a facet of its omnichannel marketing efforts — phone, Web, retail and more. When Response first profiled the company and its founder, Dr. Howard Murad, seven years ago (, the company’s belief in DRTV was made clear. But, listening to Randolph today, it’s also clear just how much the marketing universe — not to mention the capability of consumers — has changed.

“When most of our TV viewers have turned into multi-screen viewers, we’re dealing with a much more complex environment,” Randolph says. “Impulse purchasing is not as prevalent because they are so much more empowered with information. Searching reviews is the No. 1 way that these consumers start to consider a purchase, which means direct response isn’t driving the funnel all the way from awareness to purchase in those 30 minutes that it has historically. We’ve had to change the way that we do business. That starts with putting the customer at the center.”

Yet, with all of the changes, Murad’s marketing efforts still revolve around the starting point of a DRTV campaign — as they have for much of the past two decades. Now, however, the company is utilizing much more lead-generating short-form, with calls-to-action online and at retail, rather than the long-form campaigns that helped build the brand in its earlier days.

It’s an evolution — one that Randolph and Murad appear well matched to continue for some time to come.

Measured Influences

When Murad founded his eponymous company in 1989, his goal as a dermatologist was to share innovative skincare formulas and what he called a “revolutionary Inclusive Health® system” to help patients resolve skin concerns more quickly. The success and expansion of the brand during the past two-and-a-half decades speaks for itself — from its signature Resurgence® product to lines in acne treatment, anti-aging and more.

Randolph knew the power of the Murad brand and of its DR marketing efforts well when she joined the company in 2011 — in fact, she knew DR-built brands extremely well.

“I came to Murad after serving as a vice president at Beachbody for five years and, before that, at Guthy-Renker for six years,” Randolph says. “Prior to that, I was involved in the direct-to-consumer business through direct mail at the U.S. Sales Corp., a 40-year old company that did more than 200 mailings per year.”

Now overseeing Murad’s global direct-to-consumer business, including what she calls “integrated brand-response television,” Randolph brings a series of hard-earned lessons to the position from her previous work.

“The first lesson was how different traditional marketing and direct response marketing is,” she says. “It’s about the mindset of the customer. Direct response is more of a process. Brand marketing drives awareness and brand equity and loyalty. Response is focused more on driving orders and your lifetime contribution margin to those orders. Direct response is really channel agnostic and more a means to an end.”

She also learned — at both Beachbody and Guthy-Renker — that there are “always more ways to track and measure.” She continues, “When people say, ‘I have a complete, optimized campaign,’ I tend to giggle. When we are looking at the business from a 50,000-foot perspective all the way down to the five-foot level, it doesn’t matter what part of the business you’re working in — there is always more to track and measure! In telemarketing alone, we have dozens of metrics that we measure. I get fascinated tracking viewership all the way down to how that translates into orders and how they interplay with the calls-to-action (CTAs), then down to all of the telemarketing metrics. Then, there are the conversion metrics through all of your different channels and how that translates into lifetime value. You can never really get bored because there is always a different lever to pull and to optimize.”

She is also cognizant of the ever-expanding role of technology, both internally for the business and how it is affecting consumers. “I spend a lot of time optimizing campaigns, planning media, and looking at new technologies to incorporate into the business,” Randolph says. “Whether that’s cloud routing or a multi-agency model or a multi-call center model, there is so much that comes into play as a DR marketer that you have to be everywhere now. What’s that new customer journey going to look like? What technologies do you need to bring into the fold to help meet your objectives?”

Redefinition and Resurgence

New technologies present challenges, but are also a boon — and Randolph says that marketing is forever changed, especially how direct response works and how it fits into an overall marketing effort.

When Randolph arrived from Beachbody, she was able to institute some immediate changes that likely weren’t apparent to consumers, but helped step Murad’s business up to new heights.

“I was very fortunate to have worked at Guthy-Renker and Beachbody, where everything is centered around direct response,” she says. “You learn a level of sophistication, benchmarking and opportunities faster than anywhere else. When I came to Murad, there was tremendous low-hanging fruit here just by optimizing the back office and the back end.”

While sharpening the back end may have initially slowed the pace of instituting a new DR campaign, it improved each campaign immensely. “In the past, we could be testing a new creative more quickly than having this conversation,” she says with a laugh. “We would just throw something up, test it, and see if the phones would ring. Those days are gone. We’ve really had to layer in an essence of research, consumer insights and product positioning.”

That means that Murad has refined its strategy from a visual and communication standpoint so that its messaging plays “seamlessly across all channels,” Randolph contends.

“It’s about creating an omnichannel dashboard — it’s not just about sales metrics anymore. It’s also about engagement metrics,” she says. “To that extent we’ve actually created a consumer engagement division to address the fact that ‘likes,’ shares, link-backs and content in general are becoming critical components to our success. Murad has always been a multichannel brand across retail and direct. But we’re evolving to become more omnichannel with cross-channel integrated campaign planning. We like to think that we are on the forefront of doing so.”

But Randolph believes Murad’s history as an “affordable prestige skincare brand” is an asset. Throughout DR circles, Murad’s DRTV campaigns have always been seen as impressively high-end, matching that brand positioning. But internally, Randolph says, that’s not always been the case.

“It’s funny: if you ask somebody internally, many will say our direct response creative still isn’t matching the retail presence,” she says. “We’re working to close that gap. Last year, we underwent a pretty large rebranding effort — more into a lifestyle approach where we care more about the emotional hook. It’s ‘Look better. Live better. Feel better.’”

Randolph believes this rebranding — with a response-driven core — is an ongoing process. “We have multiple websites that we are integrating. There is a seamless customer experience that we are now creating,” she says. “This brand was never created as an infomercial product. That comes with its pros and its cons. The biggest pro is that we’re leveraging the authority of a 25-year-old brand. We have the efficacy and the clinically proven results and the science to back all of that up. In terms of marketing ingredients — using some of the fundamentals of DR — we’re ahead of the game.”

She says that campaigns for Murad’s Resurgence brand and for its acne product in recent years showed the power of an expanded view of response marketing.

“Resurgence was a six-year-old campaign. We had a show that had been up for a while,” Randolph explains. “But without even reviving the creative — just by changing some of our measurement and engagement on the back end — we took it from a product that was a lot lower in the IMS (Infomercial Monitoring Services) rankings to being in the top 10 for the entire year. It had nothing to do with changing an offer, changing the show, changing the creative. It had everything to do with optimizing the back-end metrics.”

All Together Now

The acne product campaign is one of the company’s current efforts.

“Having worked on Proactiv Solution for a really long time, it was natural to come to Murad and say, ‘How do we get our acne campaign back on the map?’” Randolph says. “We discovered the hard way that it wasn’t to compete with Proactiv.”

Instead, Randolph and her team began to seek out where Murad’s acne product was enjoying success and doubling down on it. “It’s successful in the specialty prestige category,” she says. “Why try to compete with this behemoth? We’re going to play off our own personal strength, which is our distribution footprint. Now we’re creating 30-second integrated campaigns around our acne innovations.”

The new campaign launched earlier this year and is having success. “Acne is a category, and it’s is innate to our brand. It’s the fabric of what Murad is so we weren’t ever going to give up on it. It was persistence and perseverance that got us to figure out a way to make it work,” Randolph says.

Using short-form DRTV pushed the Murad team to look at things differently. “In a 30-second format, you’re not really driving a purchase. You’re driving awareness and you’re driving traffic,” Randolph says. “So we turned it into a ‘free sample’ campaign. Basically, we are using a hybrid creative with a call to action to go to and register to get your free sample. We’re collecting the leads and creating a back-end monetization funnel of those leads.”

Another factor in the campaign is a major retail push. “We partnered with Sephora to distribute the samples of our latest acne product,” Randolph says. “We’re only a few weeks in, but we’re seeing five times the amount of traffic generated by the campaign.”

This successful campaign plan was first tested a year ago at a smaller level for Rapid Age Spot, a pigment lightening serum. “We didn’t lose money on that campaign, which made it a success because we also gained so many key insights for us,” Randolph says. “We figured out how to optimize the campaign for this year. That’s where Murad is going. We’re going to figure out how to leverage every single format — from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. How do they perform on their own and how do we measure them all together?”

Those metrics now include everything from social media, engagement and digital to more traditional DR areas like the phone and Web. “We’re evolving like I’m sure everybody else is,” Randolph contends. “We talk to a lot of other companies because I think a lot of people are in the same boat. We dove in a little bit head-first because we already had the footprint in place.”

Centered on Customers

Still, Randolph knows that the process of expansion in Murad’s marketing mix will continue.

“Our old pre-production process for a DRTV campaign was, ‘Let’s shoot some testimonials and see what comes out.’ Then, we would start to devise a story — the emotional hooks, the before-and-afters and the celebrities. Those days are gone,” Randolph says. “The front-loading process of production is taking months now, because it’s about collecting assets for retail education, for social engagement, for a search engine optimization and for our affiliate partners. It’s going to help us create this omnichannel vision a lot faster.”

The Murad team is taking this process into its newest integrated campaigns. “Every claim, every before-and-after, every promise that we’re making in the show has to be the same visual, the same messaging — the same everything — across all channels,” Randolph says. “That takes a lot more coordination on the front end. Once we’ve created that, we get into offers. In the past, we’ve separated out our offers on each channel so we’re driving a little bit more value on TV to get them to act now. We’re actually even changing that — even the offer and the visual of that offer is the exact same. It doesn’t matter if you’re watching our infomercial or you walk into a Sephora. You are going to see the same exact thing.”

Making this transition internally has put some pressure on Murad’s agency and vendor partners. But, Randolph says, those partners have been up to the task.

“We use a multi-agency model,” she says. “We are going into the realm of leveraging different formats, and some agencies vary in strength depending on the format. Our agency of record today is R2C Group (in Portland, Ore.). We have been with them for almost a decade. They are a great agency because they understand more of that hybrid brand-response approach. They specialize in beauty and they understand the need to create lifetime value and not just a front-end response.”

Randolph continues, “We also use Havas Edge, which has been phenomenal for us, in many respects, to round out broadcast and testing opportunities. For short-form, brand awareness, drive-to-retail campaigns, we are using Halogen. They offer more of a full service in terms of leveraging partnerships within print — digital partnerships with the publications like native advertising, etc., for these kinds of awareness campaigns.”

Randolph says each of Murad’s agency partners are effectively evolving — crucial with how the company is changing. “I can see them evolving because the needs of the marketers are evolving,” she adds. “It’s really continuing to keep pace with the expectations we have.”

And those expectations, as Randolph continues to drive home, are centered on the fact that there’s no longer a separation between branding and response-driven mechanisms. “Some marketers think they are a brand and others think they are simply a product,” she says. “You don’t have to choose. It’s not an either/or situation anymore.”

That all comes back to the consumer. “If you understand the customer, it’s no longer about transactions and data,” Randolph says. “It’s about the customer and their experience and the relationship they have with the brand. It’s not about push marketing anymore. It’s about a full strategy of how to engage the customer.”

And to that end, Randolph says, it’s those marketers well-versed in DR — like Murad — that need to move forward, as well. “We talk so much about DR fundamentals,” she says. “I think those need to evolve too. You often hear marketers saying, ‘Stick to the fundamentals.’ Well, look at the ratios of long-form infomercials that have been a success in the past year sticking to those fundamentals. They’ve become very few and far between.”

What’s the solution? Randolph says, “Yes, you still need transformation. You still need demonstration — all of the things that have driven DR success. But, today, it’s no longer about the way that you are pushing the information out, because consumers know how to educate themselves. Put your consumer at the center, and it creates a ripple effect through your organization — from infrastructure to the way that you plan and position products. It changes everything.” ■

About the Author: Thomas Haire

Thomas Haire

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