The days of traditional “spray and pray” – the practice of sending out as many marketing messages as possible and seeing what sticks – are long over, Ernan Roman, president of Ernan Roman Direct Marketing, told attendees Tuesday at the Direct Marketing Association’s Digital Marketing Days conference and expo. Marketers now need to tailor their messages to remain relevant with customers.

“Marketing has gotten so noisy,” Roman said during a DM Days session. “It’s so interruptive, so intrusive. We need to start looking at what do we do to better engage [customers].”

To regain consumer trust, marketers must engage in socially responsible marketing, Roman said. One way to do that is to leverage the “voice of customers.” Companies need to understand customers’ needs, wants, their decision-making process and their expectations, Roman said.

Conducting VOC research can help marketers address critical business issues and better determine what information they should deploy. After determining the VOC, the payoff will give marketers the chance to alter the customer experience, Roman said.

“If you engage the voice of customers and communicate on media they are looking for, they will respond at levels far higher than traditional spray and pray,” Roman said. “This economy has changed expectations. Engagement and relevance are key.

Case in point: industrial supplies distributor MSC Industrial Direct.

Panelist Richard Bonfiglio, director-customer marketing at MSC Industrial Direct, said his company conducted two VOC research studies to understand how the recession has changed customer spending habits. The research consisted of telephone calls up to an hour long with customers and prospects. MSC officials learned they weren’t losing significant numbers of customers as a result of the recession. Instead, they were witnessing a shift in buying behavior.

“The research helps validate the value MSC brings to the market,” Bonfiglio said. “What we did find was a huge opportunity to speak to customers in matter that was more relevant.”

The company has a new customer onboarding program that helps determine customers’ wants, needs and preferences at the beginning of their lifecycle. It helps MSC profile customer and determine what channel will be most effective. Bonfiglio reported a 20% life in response rates and sales per customer.