What is Direct Marketing. Direct Marketing Strategy, August 15, 1993

Like opening Pandora’s box (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandora%27s_box), putting the question “What is direct marketing?” to those who call themselves “direct marketers” unleashes myriad definitions and points of view. In fact, is it an industry? Is it a strategy? Is it a marketing tactic? Just what is this “thing” that takes the various shapes and methods of traditional mail order, catalogues, outbound and inbound telemarketing, computer bulletin boards, TV shopping channels, late-night infomercials etc., etc. In contemplating the question, it seemed the best way to come up with a definitive answer was to ask those people who work with “it” every day.

John Gustavson (http://www.the-cma.org/newsroom), President of the Canadian Direct Marketing Association says ” Direct marketing is a marketing technique that allows the consumer or business to respond directly to the supplier of goods or services from offers presented by mail, telemarketing, direct response print or broadcast advertising.” His answer flagged one of the key ingredients of direct marketing–“respond directly”.
A more succinct definition came from Brent Hollister (https://ca.linkedin.com/in/brenthollister), Vice President, Catalogue for Sears Canada Inc. “A selling technique designed to generate an immediate response from a customer for a product or service.” Yes, direct marketing is definitely a selling technique and one that is growing quickly as a look in your mailbox will illustrate.

Had we reached a true definition, yet? There was the reply from Dave Taylor (http://strategyonline.ca/1997/07/21/16736-19970721/), Chairman of Taylor-Tarpay Direct Advertising, “In my opinion, direct marketing is rewarding, frustrating, misunderstood, misused, too often misdirected, complicated, simple, challenging and fun!” Yes, and so is training ducks to walk on water., but had we’ve yet to reach a consensus Taylor then went on to add, “Direct marketing is, above all, an approach to marketing communications that has to involve the objective of producing immediate, measurable response to a communications message in one or more media.” That’s better, “measurable response”, the one element totally unique to the discipline of direct marketing.

But the conundrum continued when Brian Fetherstonhaugh (http://www.ogilvy.com/About/Ogilvy-and-Mather-Board/Brian-Fetherstonhaugh.aspx), President of Ogilvy & Mather Direct quoted from Drayton Bird’s book “Commonsense Direct Marketing” Acknowledging that common sense is the most uncommon thing of all…according to Drayton Bird direct marketing is “any communication or marketing activity which creates or exploits a direct relationship with your customer as an individual”. Finding notions of exploitation a little controversial, let’s choose the key words–“relationship” and “customer as an individual”.

What happens when you put these key words together? Direct marketing is a selling technique that produces a direct, measurable response and forms a relationship with customers as individuals.”

At the end of the day, it would appear that we were close to answering the question, until Peter Case (http://strategyonline.ca/1999/10/25/27041-19991025/), Vice President, Advertising, Royal Bank of Canada decided to throw a spanner in the works, when he said, “Maybe direct marketing is the commercial equivalent to a dating service!

When all is said and done, it would seem that what my colleagues, collectively, are saying is that direct marketing is a method of marketing, using various media, that matches products or services with appropriate customers who have an identified need for the product or service in a manner that the customer will respond to directly and that the marketer can use to collect information about that customer’s behaviours in order to offer continued, personalized communications and form a longer-term mutually satisfactory relationship.

Sound like a marriage made in heaven? You bet. Does it also look as though the answer to the question is long-winded, complex and about as easy to explain as why you left your car in the airport parking lot and took a taxi home? Right, again!

Bryan Weaver, Director, List Management, Harlequinn Enterprises Ltd., summed it up  best when he said, “Direct marketing is the marketing idea for the future. While it is an old form of marketing dating back, at least, to Benjamin Franklin’s time, modern technology and the terrific time pressures on today’s consumers, combine to make “it” the ideal method of selling for the ’90’s!” We should add to Bryan’s reasoning the high costs of mass advertising for ill-defined returns on investment, increasingly knowledgeable  and demanding consumers and the ever-present desire of human beings in an over-crowded world to be treated as distinct individuals. And, however difficult to define “it” might be, it would appear that the time for direct marketing has come.

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