Direct Marketing is the New Mainstream: Lessons from DMA

October 11, 2011

Last week, I had the chance to attend the Direct Marketing Association’s annual conference after presenting a social media case study at the DMEF, the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation. Yes—a social media case study Social marketing was on the agenda for much of the DMA 2011 Conference, as was paid search, SEO, web analytics, and email. Sessions explored the success of online communities, channel partner marketing, social media strategies, and email creative. It was a far cry from the stereotype of direct marketing as being all about mail campaigns and infomercials. Direct now encompasses all things digital, other than some display, and most things print. Direct is now the normal paradigm for marketing.

How did this come about? How did the DMA become the standard conference for all things marketing? For one thing, marketing has become increasingly direct. The reasons are multiple: consumers are now ignoring blanket campaigns—they tune out TV commercials, read fewer general and more niche print publications, and are handy at ignoring outdoor (when was the last time you stopped to admire a billboard?).

The best way to reach an audience now is through targeted messaging aimed directly at them—their region, their profession, their demographic, and most successfully, them personally. Direct is how consumers want to be reached, be it through email, targeted search, or even old-fashioned print. Does this mean broad campaigns are over? Certainly not—there’s still a role for television, outdoor, and broad-based social media acquisition campaigns. Often, the only way to acquire customers whom you can then reach directly is through a non-direct campaign.

But direct in all its forms is where the marketing dollars are now, because that’s where the ROI is—in the emails you send to your best customers with special offers, in the online community that mobilizes your brand advocates, in the print piece that beautifully conveys your message to a chosen audience. The ROI on email is still around $44 for each $1 spent. Marketers are projected to spend $3.1 Billion on social media by 2014, according to Forrester. Crafting your message thoughtfully with very specific groups of end users in mind is now essential to making your marketing message heard above the noise.

Direct isn’t easy. It requires far more thought, far more muscle than the broad campaigns of old. Having a good backbone of technical infrastructure is now essential-you don’t want to spend valuable time reinventing the wheel when automation and solid backend systems can take care of repetitive tasks. Integrating your testing, targeting, email, web analytics, basic SEO, and CRM into a cohesive unit provides the background for making direct work. So too, does breaking down silos within an organization to make sure that functional units within marketing talk to each other—or staying on top of trends if you’re among the many solo CMOs out there. It’s a big undertaking. But it’s also the key to reaching your customers in the one-on-one conversation they now expect from you.

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