DM Suppliers Need 21st-Century Marketing

Last week, I attended the DM Days trade show in New York, hoping to hear about the direct marketing industry’s latest uses of online advertising. To my shock, I discovered many direct marketing industry suppliers dismiss Internet marketing as a means to reach their target audiences. Imagine, the direct marketing industry doesn’t see the value in the direct marketing tool of our age!

After interviewing several exhibitors and identifying this trend, I delved further. Why would these suppliers ignore the Internet’s potency? Do they think their audience isn’t online? Was I really even at a direct marketing trade show?

What I learned astounded me. Reaction to my probing was met with everything from dumbfounded ignorance to fierce disdain for the Internet. The show floor was dominated by companies dealing directly in, or catering to, the direct mail industry. Perhaps the Internet’s effect on direct mail led to the hostility I encountered.

When asking exhibitors if their companies participated in Internet marketing, all too often I got a response such as, “Do you mean do we have a Web site?” Sadly, some exhibitors weren’t even sure if they had a site, or whether their clients use the Internet. Once I explained I meant were they using the Internet to promote their company, “no” was the answer.

“Any particular reason why not?” I probed. Here are some of the responses I received:

  • The Internet isn’t effective as a marketing channel.

  • The Internet isn’t effective for B2B marketing.
  • The Internet isn’t measurable.
  • We can’t reach our target audience well enough online.
  • We sell direct mail, so that’s all we’ll use.
  • We don’t see the benefit of online marketing.
  • I hate email. I hate online advertising.

It seems these suppliers could use a good dose of education and Internet marketing awareness. But no amount of education or awareness building is worthwhile unless the audience is open-minded enough to receive the message. Many of those I interviewed (none of whom wanted to be directly quoted) say Internet marketing’s benefits won’t be accepted until the old guard moves out.

“Direct marketing is dominated by people who have been doing the same thing for 25-30 years. Until these people move out and younger folks move in, the Internet will not become a focus of our marketing strategy,” one person told me. Another said, “Management is old school and set in their ways. They don’t want to allocate any manpower or money to the Internet.”

To be fair, I did find a handful of slightly more savvy direct marketing suppliers. A few distribute email newsletters to their client base. PostcardMania has a Google AdWords campaign, and its CEO writes articles for online distribution. YORK Label has purchased links on ThomasRegister and other directory sites. And U.S. Monitor, which has just begun to dabble in online marketing, has bought ads in DM News email newsletter and explored sponsored search listing placements and co-registration.

“The cost of Internet marketing is much more affordable and the barrier to entry is so much lower than traditional marketing that it’s an easy decision to make,” said Chris Bristow, COO. He acknowledges they didn’t do as good a job planning or applying the same tracking rigors as they do for their offline efforts, but he views it as a learning process. “We definitely plan on continuing with our exploration of Internet marketing and advertising.”

Granted, DM Days isn’t as large as DMA Annual Conference. But with the exception of a handful of search marketing firms, a few email application suppliers (though most postal list companies now also broker email lists), and some miscellaneous Internet marketing vendors, I found the scarcity of Internet marketing suppliers surprising.

A CoolSavings rep observed: “Even the attendees are still mostly direct mail people only dabbling in ‘how do I get more online,’ because direct mail is their comfort zone. They have their metrics all figured out for offline, and delving into online is the complete unknown. Plus, going online requires them to free up marketing dollars that they have previously committed elsewhere. The pendulum is swinging towards online marketing, but just swinging more slowly.”

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