Is What’s Old Really New in Direct Marketing?

  |  March 25, 2014   |  Comments

Many successful multi-channel marketers are finding out that our roots in good old direct and database marketing are powerful assets in our new "big data" world.

I led a panel discussion at a recent marketing event debating the value of "old" direct marketing techniques in the "new" modern marketing arena. Certainly, data-driven marketing is "the new black" in customer engagement - and so if you consider that direct marketing is the forerunner of all response marketing, then certainly it seems that the old is gold.

Many successful multi-channel marketers are finding out that our roots in good old direct and database marketing are powerful assets in our new "big data" world. Strategies like segmentation, targeting, responsive marketing, and next-best offer are not new concepts, but they do have new flavors, digital and non-digital applications, and opportunities.

We talked about the fact that this question may just be semantics, but of course, words matter (says the columnist who tries to communicate and inspire and provoke using words!). I started out feeling that the debate didn't really matter, that direct marketing has evolved like every form of marketing, every function of business, and that tried and true techniques do work, when they are adapted to the digital age, the world of social and "big data" and our audience preferences. However, I have come to believe that it does matter what we call what we do, and that marketers themselves are not inspired by terms and concepts that feel outmoded or put them at a disadvantage for career advancement and funding.

Perceptions of our industry from consumers and policy makers also matter. DMA (disclaimer: my current employer) presented at an FTC Workshop this month on "Alternate Scoring Products," which turn out to be good old marketing analytics. Some of the examples of yesteryear are still great examples of data-driven marketing:

  1. In 1888, Sears predicted that consumers in the rural West would more likely be interested in the catalogs they sent, because they wouldn't have access to stores with those products.
  2. In 1912, L.L. Bean predicted that people who had Maine hunting licenses but lived out of state would be interested in a catalog of hunting gear, so he purchased that list of licensees from the State of Maine.

In modern terms, Microsoft recently released some research showing "consumers are absolutely desperate for more personalization during their purchase journey." Consumers don't want to encounter gaps between brands' online, mobile, and in-store presence - they want to have a seamless experience wherever they encounter that brand.

I think that is where the real difference and evolution of our industry lies. It's not in the fact that we used data then and use data now. It's not in the fact that we have different data or that we have more or can use advanced technology and marketing automation to connect in real time. It's that marketing journeys are extinct. What lives is the customer journey. And that customer centricity is the foundation for all our efforts to connect with customers, on their terms, in the channels they prefer, and at the times that make sense for them.

Permission marketing was revolutionary. Its legacy survives in things as simple as choice to as complex as predictive analytics and propensity retailing. Its surviving ancestor is customer centricy - where the customer is truly in charge of the branded experience and both contributes to the experience, markets it (shares it), and draws from it the value needed. Marketers are participants in that journey, but they don't own it. Marketers are left to understand patterns in the "pressure points" - those powerful insights we gain from data-driven analytics - in order to make those experiences easy to find and enjoy across channels. The key drivers from a business standpoint are the "pressure points" around conversion, price, and loyalty.

The different between what is old and what is gold is that it's customer-"pulled" and not marketer-"pushed."

The most essential item in the marketer toolkit today is trust. Good old-fashioned trust. Leon Leonwood Bean knew it. So did Montgomery Ward. Tony Hsieh of Zappos and Jeff Bezos of Amazon carry the torch. Across our great nation, people are happy to provide information in exchange for a fabulous data-driven experience.

What do you think? Is direct marketing an accurate description of what you do, or do we need a new word, or just a new definition? Does it matter what you call what you do - as long as you generate results? Please comment below.

Image via Shutterstock.

pro-rank-tracker-logoPro Rank Tracker is a cutting-edge ranking tracking tool for keeping you up-to-date with all the latest changes in the rankings of your websites and videos.


Stephanie Miller

Stephanie Miller is a partner with brand and marketing technology strategy firm TopRight Partners, which helps customers use the technology they have today to do the marketing they want to do today and tomorrow. She is a relentless customer advocate and a champion for marketers creating memorable customer experiences. A digital marketing and CRM expert, she helps sophisticated marketers balance the right mix of people, process, and technology to optimize a data-driven content marketing strategy. She speaks and writes regularly and leads several industry-wide initiatives. Feedback and column ideas most welcome, to smiller AT toprightpartners DOT com or @stephanieSAM.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Marketing newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!



Featured White Papers

US Consumer Device Preference Report

US Consumer Device Preference Report
Traditionally desktops have shown to convert better than mobile devices however, 2015 might be a tipping point for mobile conversions! Download this report to find why mobile users are more important then ever.

E-Commerce Customer Lifecycle

E-Commerce Customer Lifecycle
Have you ever wondered what factors influence online spending or why shoppers abandon their cart? This data-rich infogram offers actionable insight into creating a more seamless online shopping experience across the multiple devices consumers are using.




  • SEO Specialist
    SEO Specialist (Marcel Digital) - ChicagoSearch Engine Optimization (SEO) Specialist   Marcel Digital is an award winning digital marketing...
  • SEO / SEM Manager
    SEO / SEM Manager (CustomInk) - FairfaxAre you a friendly, motivated, and inquisitive individual? Are you a positive, out-going leader? Are you...
  • SEO Analyst
    SEO Analyst (XO Group) - New YorkSEO Analyst @ XO Group About this Job, You and Our Team: The XO Group SEO Team is looking for you, a passionate...