Recession Marketing: The Direct Approach

The economy hurts. Sales are down. Morale is low, staff has been cut, and the forecast is bleak. What’s a marketer to do?

By all present indications, when the going gets tough, the tough go direct. While it’s a given that few sectors look rosy these days, if there is a bright spot (relatively speaking) in the marketing landscape, it’s direct marketing.Digital direct marketing.

Back to Basics

Why? Why, for all the same reasons digital marketing burgeoned over the past decade. Done correctly, direct marketing is cost effective, highly targeted, relevant to consumer needs and interests, and delivers on the ROI (define) front.

Consider the numbers just released by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). It projects e-mail marketing will generate an average ROI of $43.52 this year. That number beats search two times over, not to mention other marketing channels.

Direct is one of the few marketing sectors in which investors are still placing their bets in these troubled times. E-mail provider ExactTarget just reined in a $70 million investment. Postmaster Direct was snapped up by Q Interactive, while U.K. firm Facultas was acquired by Lyris. Smaller e-mail service providers including BLI Messaging and Email Data Source have also recently been on the receiving end of funding.

While not entirely rosy, things are looking up on the direct marketing employment front, too. A recent survey from executive search firm Bernhart Associations finds 20 percent of respondents plan to add staff this quarter — up from only 16 percent during Q2 of this year.

But Not Back to Square One

In troubled times marketers are increasingly turning to digital, and digital marketers are falling back on tried-and-true tactics, none more basic than e-mail. That doesn’t mean e-mail is living off in its own silo, however. Now more than ever, it’s critical e-mail campaigns be seamlessly integrated with other marketing channels, as well as laser-targeted to reach the right audience.

What, then, does “integrated” mean? A lot more than it did 10 years ago. E-mail messaging must be finely tuned with SEO (define) and SEM (define) efforts (themselves a form of direct marketing, when you really think about it).

Social media integration is also a cornerstone of new direct marketing models. Messaging, offers, and calls-to-action must all be channel and touchpoint specific — and there are simply a lot more online channels now than when e-mail marketing first rose to prominence.

A critical new-ish channel in the e-mail sphere is mobile. A recent Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) survey reveals 54 percent of people are interested in mobile as a point of contact with companies they do business with, and 70 percent would allow brands to target them on their mobile devices given the right incentives to sign up. Are you e-mail marketers out there paying attention? Are you even designing and optimizing e-mail for mobile consumers?

If not, why not?

How Direct is “Direct”?

It goes without saying that tracking ROI is a critical component of direct marketing campaigns, e-mail or otherwise. But direct isn’t always as direct as it appears on the surface. Marketing services company Epsilon reports that well over half (67 percent) of consumers say they’ve purchased something offline as the result of e-mail messaging. Tracking those conversions are just plain not easy or bulletproof. You can ask recipients to print out messages and encourage them to do so with coupons and barcodes — but that isn’t going to account for all your conversions, and it certainly won’t make things as neatly trackable as pure-play digital messaging. Nevertheless, these indirect benefits of direct marketing provide an even more compelling argument to go back to basics.

Remember, you’re not alone in going through tough times. Your target audience is likely in rough patch, too. Sales and conversion expectations should be adjusted accordingly. Yet even when direct campaigns aren’t directly geared toward immediate conversion, there are other direct marketing benefits to consider, including engagement, consideration, relationship management, and even branding. Finely segmented lists, clear goals, and appropriate creative have the potential to reap benefits — even if those benefits lie down the road a ways.

When times get tough, there’s no better time to consider a fresh, new approach to the e-mail channel.

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