Direct Marketing… the eFuture is Bright

We recently received the mailing below from our bank and it looked old and tired because it’s effectively the same format that’s been used for the last 20 years. I first saw this format of DM in finance when I was working with Lloyd’s bank in 1998 – back then we copied an American bank (MBNA) in using this format. It begged the big question; ‘Where’s direct going to?’

Westpack Envelope

I’ve worked in and around the direct marketing (DM) industry for more than 25 years and have over recent years been watching where it was going with interest. I was interested in whether the fundamentals of DM were changing, or whether they remained as relevant as ever whilst the delivery channels were undergoing transformational revolution.

In its heyday DM attracted huge attention (and budgets) because it could, rightly, claim to be:

  • Targeted – you could use what you knew about your customer to narrow down the audience you talked to;
  • Interactive – you encouraged (and often rewarded) a response from the customer direct to you to buy or obtain more information, so you were sort of establishing a relationship; and
  • Accountable – you knew pretty much how much it had cost to communicate and how many sales had resulted, so the ROI was obvious – you could dial up or down activity as required.

What’s Wrong with DM?
However, the two big flaws of DM have always been its waste and its intrusiveness – flaws the industry has always struggled to overcome.

Take direct mail, If I write to 100 people and I get a response from 2 of them, I’m happy. But the fact is my targeting just is not good enough, neither is my ability to predict when a customer will be in the market. All that print straight into the bin! And what about the effect on people perceptions. Nowadays many people bemoan the curse of  ‘junk mail’. The consumer has been made cynical and more difficult to engage over time. By the same token how many people get turned off (or turn over) when confronted by a 4 minute direct response TV spot for acne treatment (forgive the pun) or ‘abswings’, compared to people that actually buy. These campaigns are designed to drip low volumes of leads through a call centre using low cost TV time, but again their tendency to cast a wide net for a small catch can alienate and infuriate consumers.

So is that it, is the game up for DM?
Not at all, the future is bright. The good news is the principles of good DM haven’t changed , just the channels. Direct marketers need to take the next brave step, think outside the envelope, they need to take the solid principles of interaction, targeting and accountability and go on-line.

The real strengths of on-line are that it:

  • does not rely upon print – cost effective and avoids waste
  • Attracts consumers who use and engage willingly on a daily basis – because it is on their terms – timely and relevant
  • Creates social networks that facilitate word of mouth and even subtle product placement – one of the most powerful ways to reach an audience – truly interactive
  • Rewards consumers with content and encourages them to opt-in to interest areas and register likes and dislikes – permission and targetable
  • Allows you to run tests of copy, creative and product and reflect results by making changes in an instant – accountable

In essence on-line is the ultimate direct marketing channel. When fused effectively with the principles of DM, on-line offers clients of all sizes in all markets an exciting channel of connection with their customers.

We work with many clients advising them on the best ways to take their brand to market. If you’d like to discuss ways in which we can enhance you direct marketing communications, give us a call.

Malcolm Harvey
Client Services Director and DM go-to guy


  1. These are all great questions. I’m wondering if maybe branding and direct marketing might kind of blend together for certain products and services. While luxury items by stay more ethereal regular stuff like fast food, pain meds and laundry soap etc. will depend on what have traditionally been known as direct marketing tactics.

    • Thanks Ellie – I agree luxury brands have a more intimate relationship with their customer that overcomes much of the resistance other brands experience – for one the customer seeks them out and is interested in their brand expressions.
      I only just touch on brand but it’s another question that has been often debated in the context of DM. If i send a mail piece and its damaging my brand – I’m stuck. It’s the immediacy and flexibility of online direct marketing thats so exciting. I can post a brand (or creative) message, test and change based on immediate feedback – I could even vary my brand position by audience!

  2. “I’m wondering if maybe branding and direct marketing might kind of blend together for certain products and services.” Ellie hit the nail on the head. While I think there’s much opportunity in DM and the online channel, I don’t think traditional mail DM is dying. The cluttering in the last decade has taught marketers a valuable lesson and that is to reevaluate their “lists” and focus on better targeting to those most loyal customers accordingly. Matching the latter with intelligent branding efforts could reinvigorate the traditional practice.

    • Michael – point well made. I don’t think traditional DM is dead either… but it’s imperative that organisations maintain the sort of data standards you touch upon. In that way they’ll build (or re-build) confidence in the channels. If anything the off-line channels will only benefit from on-line as it gives us more information on customer and proposition on which to base activity and deepens relationships. It’s about the total picture.

  3. I agree, if brand is about connecting meaning with an audience, then DM – especially on-line channels of DM provide great potentials for brands who are prepared to be flexible and targeted enough.

  4. I think there is value in both DM and E-Marketing campaigns and a place for each pending the audience. Its up to the marketer to get it right and make sure on both accounts its targeted and well designed. With so much clutter in the market, on email and in the mail, only the GREAT brand communications stand out! Storm BrandDNA get it right!

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