Virtually since Lester Wunderman first coined the term “direct marketing” in the Sixties, many have viewed the discipline with a touch of disdain.
Some point to the early adopters – the less than glamorous companies such as Reader’s Digest, Book Club Associates, National Geographic and the mail order giants – as a one reason; others decry it simply as “shit that folds”, but ask most companies whether they would like to build and maintain close relationships with their customers today and many will bite your hand off to achieve it.
And it’s not difficult to see why. Did Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, eBay and Amazon really build their businesses by running a few TV ads? Or did they do it by getting close to their customers?
Of course, direct marketing is virtually unrecognisable from the early years, where direct mail ruled. But back then, that was really the only way to contact potential and existing customers, and to be fair, it is still a proven method of achieving cut-through today.
Brand owners now have a plethora of other weapons in their armoury – email, online, mobile, social media, outdoor, door-drops, inserts, telemarketing, press and TV – but look at how marketing has evolved in recent years and one thing dominates; the desire to get customers to interact direct.
At the launch of the book ‘Spending Advertising Money in the Digital Age’, co-author Hamish Pringle told DecisionMarketing: “The implications of the ‘media flow’ era for direct advertising and marketing communications are profound. Over the past decade we’ve moved from a position where creatives regarded a phone number at the end of a TV commercial as ‘aural fly-shit’ and fought tooth and nail to delete it.
“Now smart marketers and agencies realise a customer can travel the purchase journey in minutes rather than weeks or months, so they must keep their brand in the marketplace 24/7. We’re all in DM now.”
Technology has been the enabler, and, by embracing the principles of direct marketing, brands now operate – in the words of new DMA chair and Guardian News & Media’s director of consumer revenues Julia Porter – in the one-to-one to millions industry.
Last year, there was plenty of debate over whether digital marketing should just be called “marketing”, sparked by Forrester’s ‘Trends for the B2C CMO to watch in 2013’. But surely the question is, shouldn’t marketing be called “direct marketing” these days?
Charlie McKelvey is publishing editor of DecisionMarketing.co.uk