If you have ever marketed even one of your products or services, you’d know what they say about Direct Marketing (DM). There are so many different views about DM amongst the marketers today that it’s difficult to understand whether it’s worth all the time and effort at all. It’s confused, abused and misused by several marketers.

That’s right: there are the haters and then there are the DM lovers. Some are the in-betweeners (no reference to the teen TV show). Whatever it is, as a small business you need to know where DM stands in the digital age of 2011.

In his book, The Complete Guide to Direct Marketing, Chet Meisner refers to an Orlando newspaper which ran a hateful story about direct marketers. The headline was “Spammers, Telemarketers Share Secrets in Orlando”. According to the story, direct marketers were “making way too much money to stop the suppertime phone calls and endless emails.”

Yet, DM has its advantages. Meisner goes on to say that if you want your DM to yield results, make sure you treat it more than direct mail, interactive marketing, telemarketing or database marketing—look at it in the bigger context, as a strategy which supports your business objectives.

What is Direct Marketing?

Direct Marketing is used in two senses: Distribution and marketing communications. In sense of distribution, think companies that deal with their customers directly with no intermediate parties involved like distributors, wholesalers or retailers.

In the marketing communication sense, direct marketing is targeted communication to the customers by companies. Everyone has been a recipient of DM collateral at one point in time. They may annoy you, pique your interest, make you spend boatloads money on the marketer’s products, or simply go in your waste paper basket.

As you can see, the results out of a DM strategy are highly unpredictable. For example, let’s take two case studies below:

Case 1: Company A sent 2,000 direct mail flyers to all those in its database list. By the end of the second week, 3 prospects had emailed back, 5 had called and 2 became the company’s customers. Even though the conversion rate doesn’t seem high, it’s worth it because the company can now cover its expenses in sending 2,000 flyers and make more in sales from the two new customers.

Case 2: The same Company advertised on radio channel show which had the target listeners. Yet, the conversion rate was not as high as with DM because there was no guarantee that the targeted audience was actually listening to their ad when it was broadcast. The results were unpredictable in this case as well, but at least in the case above, the company was sure their message was reaching the audience.

Common Forms

Before we look at the common methods, let’s address one issue: DM is not direct mail. Direct mail is just a subset of DM, which in turn is a huge umbrella of activities below.

Direct marketing is commonly done in the following ways:
  • Solicited and unsolicited emails
  • Telephonic sales
  • Flyers
  • Leaflets
  • Brochures
  • Coupons
  • Database marketing
Direct marketers often indulge in buying databases or lists of prospects from other companies selling them. The list is then targeted and receives marketing communication collateral from the sending company.

That said, marketers often forget that DM is not just the channel or way it is done—it is actually a full-fledged strategy, if considered closely, which aims to achieve a direct response in some form from the recipient.

Pros and Cons

In Case 2 above, we saw how a scatter-gun approach to marketing can fail to yield results. This could mean expenses incurred with no Return on Investments. To combat the zero ROI, it is important that small businesses give DM a try.

For example, a cereals company can send special offers to a list of pre-screened persons or a database of target demography. The company may also collect phone numbers and other details of cafe and fast food restaurants, have them stock their cereal to be served during breakfast hours.

On the other hand, DM can lead to information overload or overwhelm the recipients. It’s inappropriate to assume that if a customer buys dog food from a store, they will be interested in a dog sleeve or other products. For all we know, they may not be buying the food for their own pet!

If you are using direct marketing as one of your strategies, make sure you allow the individuals to opt out of your database anytime. Personal information should also be available anytime to be updated, if an individual requests it. Also, there are concerns that many legitimate direct marketing companies sell their databases to dodgy companies without the permission of the individual.

Sample Customer Profile Table

Chet Meisner speaks of the importance of “profiling” in his book. Profiling is a term used to collect subjective and objective characteristics of a prospect.

Objective characteristics
Likes to travel
Member of Democratic political party
Makes more than $50,000 per year
Has children in college
Lives in a single-family home
Drives a luxury vehicle
Subjective characteristics
Really needs my product
Has a budget to buy it
Wants to buy it this year
Knows about our company
Pays bills on time
Makes the decision to buy
Is easy to please
Source: The Complete Guide to Direct Marketing by Chet Meisner

Each profile can then be converted into a “functional” profile, which can be used for your marketing decisions.

The following table is a sample customer profile table that small businesses may develop by extracting details of each of their existing customer.

FIELD FIELD NAME
1 Customer Name
2 Street Address
3 City
4 State
5 Zip code
6 Phone number
7 E-mail address
8 Type of product purchased
9 Dollar amount purchased
10 Item number
11 Date of purchase
12 Method of payment
Source: The Complete Guide to Direct Marketing by Chet Meisner

Direct Marketing “Rules”

If you are a small business doing your own marketing, here are some rules for your copy.

Well, not rules exactly, but if followed, you’d get better results as compared to otherwise. Consider the tips below as helpful flag points that your direct marketing copy could use:
  1. Always speak about the benefits to your customer and not your services or product features. Don’t say “we”, say “you”. If you are giving away something, tell them “You get a free consultation!” instead of saying “We are giving away a free consultation”.
  2. Use humour with utmost caution because it gives you an image of being not so serious about business.
  3. Give your copy openings your best shot—same goes with closing paragraphs.
  4. Don’t confuse the recipient with industry jargon. Use simple sentences and proper grammar. Here at Marketing Eye we stick to one principle: Always proofread!
  5. Yet, don’t be a strict grammarian. Yes, it’s completely okay to allow errs of grammar like ending a sentence with a preposition, if you think it makes your copy strong.
  6. Make use of underline and bold for emphasis in your copy.
  7. Include a call-to-action several times in the copy. Remind them what they are supposed to do next. A call-to-action can be a phone number to call, an address to write, or an invite a visit to the brand new website. Meisner advises marketers to ask for a sale at least three times in the copy.

Direct Marketing: 2012 and Beyond

The future of DM looks very bright, because today the media has changed a lot than what it was 15 years back.

The introduction of digital channels and Internet, especially, have led to a great revive in the direct marketing business.

As per MyCMO.com, “Across the Australian DM industry there is a general feeling of optimism and positivity about the future and where DM currently sits in the advertising landscape. Changes in media consumption, consumer engagement, media channels and in the use of research mean that DM has the spotlight shining brightly on it. What is marketing in the modern economic environment if it is not accountable, measurable and effective? What is communication between a brand and a consumer that is not personable, targeted and responsive? In a word, useless.”

So you see, even though some channels (like direct mails) may be undergoing a slow death, the strategy of DM is not dead. Not yet, at least.

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Mellissah Smith

Mellissah Smith is a marketing expert with more than 20 years experience. Having founded and built two successful marketing companies internationally, she is well recognized as a industry thought leader and innovator. Mellissah started her career working with technology and professional services firms, primarily in marketing, public relations and investor relations, positioning a number of successful companies to list on the various Stock Exchanges around the world. She is a writer, technology developer and entrepreneur who shares her thoughts and experiences through blogs and written articles published in various media outlets. Brag sheet: #2 marketer to follow on Twitter (2003), Top 150 Marketers to Follow (2015), Top 10 innovative marketers (2014), 60K+ followers on Twitter with 97% authentic.

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