Direct marketing: defunct approach or powerful, strategic tool? | DMA

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Direct marketing: defunct approach or powerful, strategic tool?


There are some common misconceptions around the practice of direct marketing and what it involves. It has often been associated with hard-sell cold calls, irritating door drops or spam email, and what many perceive as somewhat outdated channels.

In truth, at a time when technology has dramatically enhanced our ability to target and personalise digital interactions and when high quality data is critical to our ability to deliver authentic brand experiences, direct marketing is more relevant than ever.

Let’s dig into the facts to understand why.

So, what exactly is direct marketing?

Although a quick search for the term ‘direct marketing’ brings up varying results, the Chartered Institute of Marketing defines it as any activities which “make it possible to offer goods or services or to transmit other messages to a segment of the population by post, telephone, email or other direct means”[1]. If we are to go by this definition, it’s a fairly broad description, which can be applied to both traditional and more ‘current’ technology-driven channels, crossing into the realms of social media and digital marketing.

Typically, the most common channels for direct marketing are:

  • Face to face selling
  • Telesales and telemarketing
  • Event marketing
  • Direct mail
  • Collateral – brochures, letters and leaflets
  • Social media
  • Advertising

Traditional direct marketing channels have changed dramatically, so it is no longer a case of offline versus online, old versus new, but rather a case of integrating channels to make a meaningful connection with the right prospect for your proposition. The ‘spray and pray’ approach to email marketing has long been replaced with personalised templates communicating a tailored and relevant message. Social ads have moved from general brand awareness to targeted campaigns with dynamic content, helping you get your message right in front of the people most likely to be receptive. Similarly, telemarketing has moved a long way from the era of blanket cold calls and now offers a strategic tool that can be used for high quality lead generation, inside sales or to generate demand and nurture relationships within an integrated account management approach.

It’s safe to say that direct marketing has evolved and will continue to blur lines with the digital marketing world as technology develops further, making targeted communication even simpler.

The pros of direct marketing

Direct marketing describes a data-led, personal and highly targeted approach that uses multiple channels, both old and new, to deliver a targeted message to a specific audience in order to achieve a particular goal. High levels of targeting are perhaps direct marketing’s greatest strength, allowing sales professionals and marketers to match their proposition to the segment for which it is most appropriate, generating high quality leads that are more likely to convert, as opposed to spending time communicating to an undefined audience that may or may not engage. In this way, direct marketing is one of the most cost-effective approaches, as it can be targeted where it will deliver the best return. The data-led nature of direct marketing also means results can be measured and different approaches easily tested and nothing is done without purpose and measureable goals. If something doesn’t work out, the method can be refined and tested again, and strategies honed for continual improvement.

By utilising advanced communication skills in conjunction with sophisticated targeting, direct marketers can communicate their message in a really powerful way, adapting to their audience’s needs or tone fluidly to provide a more personalised experience that resonates with each individual. Where direct human interaction is involved such as face to face selling, telemarketing or events, rapport can be built, feedback gathered on the spot and propositions tailored in real-time. Furthermore, the ability to personalise communications and deepen relationships, not only strengthens customer acquisition, but allows businesses to gain invaluable insight into client needs over time. This then creates cross and upsell opportunities, improves lifetime value and ensures the retention of the most profitable customers.

Whilst many might see the evolution of technology in marketing as a move away from direct marketing methods, that is far from the reality. Social media platforms are a very effective way of communicating directly to customers, allowing real time communication, in-depth targeting and a combination of both quantitative and qualitative data for powerful customer insight. Today’s marketers have access to an unprecedented amount of digital data and greater insight than ever into consumers’ interests and preferences, allowing them to serve up ads highly tailored to individual needs. Long gone are the days when advertising was purely an awareness building channel.

What are the drawbacks of direct marketing?

Done badly, any form of marketing has drawbacks. Given its invasive nature, direct marketing can be seen as overly sales-y in terms of communications, and therefore outdated or ineffective. This has less to do with the form of marketing than with the implementation. We have all been on the receiving end of poor sales calls that alienate immediately and completely switch you off to the brand in question.

The evolution of the direct marketing approach and its use of data and technology is at the heart of both its increasing effectiveness and its potential negative impact. In a post-GDPR world, it is now crucial that marketers respect consumer privacy and protect data integrity. As well as a requirement for regulatory compliance, the need for sound data handling and management processes is part and parcel of maintaining transparency to protect your clients’ best interests and preserve the relationship you have built. The combination of more sophisticated and informed consumers with advanced technology-driven marketing, fed by high volumes of data, provides all the conditions for a perfect storm, if data quality is lacking. Similarly, high volumes of digitally generated, automatically scored leads need to be properly qualified and nurtured if they are to create a healthy pipeline that doesn’t sap sales time and effort, aggravate customers and give direct marketing a bad name.

At The Telemarketing Company, we have provided specialist telesales and telemarketing services since 1990, complemented by a range of pre and post-sales research and data services to provide clients with the insight they need to connect effectively with their target audience. Our agile approach to all our work means that we can adapt to fit your needs, complementing your sales teams seamlessly. We can provide out of hours support and multilingual services to meet international demands and, most importantly, work in collaboration with you at all times to provide updates, share ideas and utilise all-important feedback to continually improve performance.

If you are looking for a direct, targeted and personal approach that drives response and allows you to connect with hard to reach prospects, we can work independently or integrate with your team, and other channels. Engaging with your existing database, we can target and reactivate lapsed accounts or develop key accounts, cross-selling and upselling, increasing profitability and lifetime value, and creating a cleansed profiled data set for your future marketing activities.

If you would like to discuss how we can help you benefit from a more direct marketing strategy, get in touch today.

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