It’s time to be loud and proud about direct marketing

Nick Myers is chief strategy officer Oliver AgencyI believe agencies made a critical misstep by abandoning the term “direct marketing” in favour of narrower alternatives such as “customer engagement”, “CRM”, and “1-2-1”. While fashionable at the time, they ultimately reduced the scope and impact of what direct marketing represents and relegated direct agencies to a lower seat in the commercial and marketing hierarchy. 

Each of these alternative terms confined our work to a specific channel, diluting the power and potential of the direct marketing philosophy. For example, to escape direct marketing’s strong association with mail, we opted for CRM, which is now firmly tethered to email. Then, we flipped to customer engagement, which, if we are honest, most people could not properly define.

We made the mistake of conflating direct marketing with direct mail, perhaps due to their shared initials, “DM”. This confusion led to the premature dismissal of direct marketing as an old-fashioned approach. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. We abandoned direct marketing just as technology was emerging to deliver on its promise.

Data-driven directions
In today’s data-rich, technology-driven landscape, we have the tools to be truly direct with customers. Generative AI represents the ultimate expression of this potential. In the future, consumers will interact with AI interfaces that seamlessly integrate transactional, behavioural, and profile data to build deeper emotional bonds and inform key aspects of the marketing mix, including pricing, product, and distribution – not just communications.

If marketers and agencies want to regain their seats at the top table, a resurrection of the philosophy and principles of direct marketing could be the key. By embracing the power of being “direct”, we can drive meaningful, measurable impact for brands and customers alike.

Building relationships
Moreover, in an age where social ad costs are rising, brands need to prioritise direct relationships with customers. Direct allows us to cut out the middleman, reducing the risk of algorithms changing and costs rising ever more. Owning and nurturing direct relationships is more valuable than ever.

It’s time to reclaim the term “direct marketing” and recognise its enduring value in our rapidly evolving industry. Let’s be proud to be direct, leveraging data and technology to build authentic, value-driven customer relationships. The future of marketing lies in our ability to embrace the direct marketing philosophy and adapt it to the GenAI age.

Nick Myers is chief strategy officer Oliver Agency

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