What Does Direct Marketing Mean Today

The whole reason for me going to New York recently was not, contrary to the pictures, to party with listeners of The BeanCast and talk about how cool it is to run a marketing podcast. No! It was to judge the best of direct marketing in the ECHO Awards competition.

I love the ECHO Awards because it's the only award that gives equal weight to strategy, creative and results. But more and more each year the question is raised, "What exactlyis direct marketing today?"

This year we tried to force the issue and broaden the definition, resulting in much spirited debate on the subject. The ECHO Academy group on Linked In is the repository of one such debate. My inbox is another. And while I encourage you to participate in this conversation, I also want to take the opportunity to expand on my own conclusions here.

Direct Is Not Just About ROI

Direct marketing purists will often ask about return on investment. It's how the industry was built. We spend money on marketing and we can point to exactly how much money we have made as a result. And yet, in many ways this ignores the truth.

Direct marketing has also always had a vibrant lead generation component. And often the strategy for a campaign is not to sell, but to fill the pipeline for future sales. We can still expand out and directly correlate a contact with a sale, but in terms of marketing we have counted this type of response as a win for quite a while.

So this year we pushed forward the notion that results are justifiable for our award if they are concrete, measurable and fulfill the terms of the strategy.

Separating Tactics From Strategy

Obviously this sparked some controversy. Because when you open things up and specify results so openly, it justifies quite a few tactics that have been largely considered the territories of branding and PR. It also says that a campaign that generated "3 million clicks on a video" is direct marketing, another debatable point.

But my stance remains that they are justified for one reason -- integration.

Very few direct campaigns today exist in a vacuum. They are more likely to be found as part of a larger effort that attempts to build brand and word of mouth right along side response. And arguing about whether tactics are "direct" is silly. If the communication is leading to a response that is concrete and measurable, it is achieving the principles of direct marketing. Further, it is advancing the purpose of direct marketing as a whole, by incorporating these principles into every marketing touch.

It's All About Relevance

It's my belief that we need to stop thinking about direct marketing as a tactic and start promoting it as a philosophy. No matter where we are in the process of building a brand, we need to be creating a path to the sale. And the only way this will happen is if we encourage and reward those who are attempting to incorporate these ideals into their work.

Richard Rosen says it best with his Velocity Scale. Brand and Direct need to be in a constant balance act, each supporting and enhancing the other. Because like I've said many times on this blog, pure promotions get you immediate sales, but not recall; and pure branding gets you recall, but not sales.

Having this symbiotic mindset is also important because our relevance hangs in the balance. Direct gets a bad rap not just because it's not "cool work," but because it's stuck in the formulaic world of tactics. And as the tactics radically change because of digital, search and social media, we risk being marginalized further by not recognizing how direct principles can fit into the mix.

So these are my opinions in a nutshell. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to comment here or over on the Linked In thread.

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