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3 reasons why direct marketing isn’t dead in today’s digital era

Direct marketing

This post is by Anton Buchner, a senior consultant with TrinityP3. Anton is a lateral and innovative thinker with a passion for refocusing business teams and strategies; creating visionary, data driven communication plans; and making sense of a more complex digital marketing environment.

Lester Wunderman (RIP) said,

“I am absolutely convinced that the future of our industry lies with the large, highly competitive manufacturing companies, which must increasingly bring their selling and marketing influence closer to the consumer.”

Mr Wunderman passed away on 9 January 2019, at the ripe old age of 98. He wasn’t the founder of direct marketing; however, he was considered the ‘Father’ of it.

He helped evolve American Express into building long term consumer relationships through rewards rather than continuing to pursue short term tactical activity.

He linked TV to print advertising by measuring the impact with the ‘gold box’ for the Columbia Record Club.

And created many other visionary marketing techniques including the toll-free 1-800 number.

If you’ve never heard of him, or don’t know the history of direct marketing, then I suggest you delve deep.

I had the absolute pleasure of working at Wunderman Cato Johnson in Sydney from 1995 to 2000. Headhunted into their account service department to help launch FOXTEL into Australia.

Applying Mr Wunderman’s wisdom to an entertainment brand backed by a seemingly bottomless financial pit. Testing targeted acquisition and loyalty concepts as the cable network rolled out through Australian suburbs.

It was a direct marketer’s dream.

Some marketers say that direct marketing is dead in today’s digital technology era

With the passing of Mr Wunderman, it got me thinking about direct marketing today.

If you ask people at a conference for a show of hands (which I did recently) as to whether they are exponents of direct marketing, then to my surprise, the majority will keep their hands down. However, when I asked whether they did ‘digital marketing’, almost everyone put their hands up.

Why do people in today’s digital and technology world think direct marketing is dead?

I’ll offer 3 reasons.

Reason 1: the word ‘digital’ is an excuse to label anything new, not old

“Digital” has been bandied around for many decades now in describing anything that evolved from analogue.

It was most obviously applied to computers, the Internet, and mobile phones. And was applied to email, website, search, and social media marketing.

It has now exploded into a myriad of technologies and concepts including cloud, big data, AI, collaboration, user experience design and many, many more.

But the fundamental point remains.

As we continue to look forward, we seem to have forgotten the principles of direct marketing (i.e. bringing the selling and marketing influence closer to the consumer).

By its very definition, digital offers ‘interactive’ experiences, one interaction at a time.

Direct marketing is about building journeys to influence purchase and building long term loyalty (i.e. repeat purchase). As I’ve mentioned above, it can be applied to analogue and digital technology.

Hence, if your objective is to create a consumer response to help drive towards a sale, then you are a direct marketer.

If you do email marketing with offers, content marketing including content that sells, or have built online communities where you are soft selling or nurturing consumers towards purchase or repeat purchase, then you are a direct marketer.

End of story.

Reason 2: the marketing funnel is dead, and consumers can now discover a brand, engage in the brand world, and purchase all in one experience

Traditionally direct marketing sat towards the conversion end of the linear marketing funnel.

You needed to be aware of a brand, product or service first. Then you were enticed by direct marketing to interact if you wanted to discover more or buy (i.e. fill in a coupon, reply by post, or click on content to register etc).

However, with advances in technology, machine learning algorithms and mobility, we have seen the blurring of the linear funnel journey.

Consumers can be made aware of a brand on TV or video, interact with it to delve into the detail and price compare, customise a product that is more relevant to them, and then buy on the spot. Often buying referred or related products in the same process.

Consumers can also discover a hashtag on a beer coaster, a QR code on someone’s t-shirt, or interactive digital elements in real-world environments.

Marketers call this a myriad of terms from augmented reality, suggestive selling, social selling, and content marketing, to remarketing, B2B2C marketing, lead nurturing and search marketing.

But at the end of the day, it’s all aimed at bringing selling and marketing influence closer to the consumer.

It’s direct marketing on steroids.

Reason 3. Brands are dead, and we buy from online platforms and marketplaces now

I can feel Mark Ritson poised at his keyboard ready to bite on this one.

With the rise of platforms and marketplaces, we have seen a myriad of new ways to buy. But hello hello. We still buy brands.

So, it’s the wrong argument to say that brands are dead (they’re not). Or that people only buy from online platforms and marketplaces (they don’t buy 100% of their products from them).

We all still buy from other retailers, wholesalers or direct from the manufacturer (or maker).

Facebook, Instagram, eBay, Amazon, Bonanza, Alibaba, Etsy, et al, have become brands in their own right. They have created unparalleled convenience for people to connect and discover other brands, products, and services – and to buy them.

So, they have simply fuelled the direct marketing dream. Mr Wunderman would be itching to test ideas today.

Long live Direct Marketing

So, to pay respect to Aaron Montgomery Ward, David Ogilvy, Lester Wunderman, Drayton Bird, Bob Stone, Stan Rapp, Malcolm Auld, Rob Wong, Phil Smith, and many other past and present ‘direct marketing’ legends, it’s time to put to rest the notion that direct marketing is dead.

Long live consumer engagement

Long live selling

Long live making advertising pay

Long live being direct

Are you structured effectively to deliver on your marketing strategy?

Here at TrinityP3, we have helped a wide variety of institutions and businesses re-look at their marketing structures, capabilities and cultures.

Rethinking the way that they are set up for success in today’s challenging environment.

As brand and direct marketing strategies evolve and become more ‘consumer-centric’, it is critical to re-look at the structures and capabilities that you require to successfully deliver on your strategy. Assessing both your internal resources, and your external agency and technology vendor partnerships.

If you have a mix of product, channel, and target audience teams, based on legacy structures, then you’re probably not going to efficiently deliver on your marketing strategy.

If you are using marketing technology and data-driven systems that aren’t revealing actionable insights from the performance reports, then you may be duplicating effort or missing opportunities.

You run the risk of having conflicting and non-aligned KPIs, a lack of true collaboration, and inefficient resource allocation.

As Lester Wunderman once said:

“There was no single moment of revelation, but a great many clues that led me in new and unexpected directions.”

If you are looking for marketing management clues to help evolve your marketing approach, then we’d love to share some of our independent wisdom that we’ve learnt along the way.

Dare I say, it sometimes pays to be direct.

Are you struggling with the complexity that digital and data offer to business? Let TrinityP3 make sense of the new digital ecosystem for you

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Anton is one of Australian's leading customer engagement consultants. With an eye for discovering greater marketing value and a love for listening to what customers are really saying about a brand. Anton has helped take global and local businesses including Microsoft, Nestlé, P&G, Gloria Jean's, Foxtel and American Express amongst others to the next level. Check out Anton's full bio here

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