Ask the Experts: How Would You Redefine Direct Marketing for the Digital Age?


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Direct marketing is the hundred-year-old science of using addressable channels to connect the right offer with the right person at the right time. Over that century, we’ve experienced tremendous change on all fronts. From a business and technological standpoint, perhaps the most significant change has stemmed from the rise of digital. We now live in a world where more than four billion people own mobile devices (a quarter of which are smartphones) and another billion have Facebook accounts. Whether marketers like it or not, the “digitization of everything” is having a profound effect on direct marketing—from the strategies and tactics down to the individual communication channels.

With that in mind, Neolane rounded up a group of direct marketing experts and posed the question, “How would you redefine direct marketing for the digital age?” Below are their insightful responses.

The Resolution of Direct vs. Digital is: Data-Driven

Direct marketing is at a crossroads. Consumer demand for more personalized advertising has fueled a shift from mass marketing to highly targeted, data-driven consumer relationships across marketing.

For direct marketers, relationships have always been at the core of our business practice. Now, as the rest of the marketing industry grapples with transforming itself in our social and digital marketplace, others are realizing what direct marketers have known all along: a data-driven, customer-centric approach is the only effective way to drive sustainable brand growth.

So, why are we still struggling with a definition for direct marketing?

I suspect it has something to do with the misperception that direct marketing remains steeped in the channel-specific practices of our past. Today’s consumer revolution demands a new set of engagement models that are no longer limited by impressions, response rates, cost-per-clicks, hang-time, pass-along – or any other one-dimensional metric. Direct and digital marketing leaders are responding with new models that leverage a globally integrated knowledge economy. Direct marketing today is as much about building brand pathways that reward integration, promote continuous learning, and drive constant innovation across all channels – as it is about optimizing performance.

Linda Woolley 2012 crop Ask the Experts: How Would You Redefine Direct Marketing for the Digital Age?About Linda A. Woolley, J.D.
Linda A. Woolley is CEO & President of the Direct Marketing Association, the leading global trade association of businesses and nonprofit organizations using and supporting multichannel direct marketing tools and techniques. Prior to becoming president and CEO, Woolley served as the executive vice president of DMA’s Washington Operations and was responsible for strategically managing its global advocacy, legislative, and political efforts.

Direct Marketing: Everything Old Is New Again

No new definition is needed for direct marketing in the digital age.

Direct marketing may be more than a century old, but its premise is as valid today as it ever was. Step 1: Use data to speak relevantly to targeted customer segments, driving a specific action as a result. Step 2: Gather data from the outcome of step 1 and use it to inform your next actions and communications. Step 3: Repeat.

Certainly, direct marketing needs to evolve as interaction channels and customer expectations evolve. Its relevance needs to increase, via a better understanding of customers’ needs and channel preferences, for example. But direct marketing is a discipline; one that is channel agnostic. So the only redefining that needs to occur is to weave digital channels into the direct marketing mix—in terms of customer interactions and data collection.

Far too many marketers today think of digital and direct as two distinct areas of marketing. It’s time to think about direct marketing as what it truly is: a highly effective way to drive customer action across all channels.

Ginger Conlon crop Ask the Experts: How Would You Redefine Direct Marketing for the Digital Age?About Ginger Conlon
As editor-in-chief of Direct Marketing News, Ginger Conlon is responsible for its editorial direction and editorial operations. Additionally, she is a board member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). Zoho cited her as one of the “Top 25 CRM Influencers You Should Be Following.” Find Ginger on Twitter at @customeralchemy.

Digital Creates Opportunities around Visibility, Velocity and Value

As I think about Direct Marketing in today’s world and the conversations CMOs are having behind closed doors at club dinners and summits, the three biggest changes and new opportunities center around Visibility, Velocity and Value.

The digital age provides new Visibility for marketers to pull together new segments of customers and literally to get to segments of one based on their specific needs, shopping and searching patterns, plus the ability to identify and leverage brand advocates (not just net promoters, but those promoters with influence). Visibility to advocates and customers redefines direct marketing for the most innovative.

Velocity of digital media is redefining direct marketing in two ways: 1) the ability to leverage digital for monitoring customers, reacting dynamically to actions, then measuring results quickly to continue to dynamically change programs, messages, offers, etc., is required for success today and 2) technology and social networks and media are changing so fast that direct marketing success is directly aligned with an organization’s ability to react quickly to technology and social media changes. The traditional approach to direct marketing campaigns is falling behind in the digital age. Again, not that print, TV, radio can’t be effective anymore, but one’s ability to move and change quickly leveraging all media is critical for success.

Finally, the best direct marketers are looking at constantly adding Value to customers and consumers through mobile apps and other digital platforms and social networks. It’s not just using apps and digital to help customers buy your products and services, but adding value in helping solve problems to align your brand with helping them.

Pete Krainik crop Ask the Experts: How Would You Redefine Direct Marketing for the Digital Age?About Pete Krainik
Pete Krainik is the Founder and CEO of The CMO Club (, the first truly professional and social engaged network of Chief Marketing Officers. Previously, Pete served as Global Vice President of AVAYA; CMO of DoubleClick, and GM of the Consumer Goods division of Siebel Systems. Additionally, he’s held executive positions at Mars, Inc., Deloitte & Touche and Gulf Oil Corporation. Follow Pete on Twitter @thecmoclub.

Direct Marketing Will Be Transformed by the ‘Social Business’

Just because we are all digitally connected, doesn’t mean it’s any easier to start the conversation; especially if you haven’t got anything particularly compelling to say. Content tailored to our likes, dislikes, passions and purchases is a marketing imperative. Messages sent to us on the device we prefer, at the time and location we want is going to be the difference maker. And to realize this fundamental change marketers need to embrace the concept of the ‘Social Business’.

New technology has created a fundamental shift in how we live and business gets done: 1.5 billion people use social media and 3.5 billion use mobile phones. Consumers and businesses are empowered to communicate, collaborate and create value whenever and with whomever they like. Forward-thinking organizations of all sizes and industries are turning to these new technologies and big data to create the ‘Social Business.’

This shift will have a dramatic impact on direct marketing. Business needs to transform itself to become ‘mobile and social first’ rather than traditional product and service organizations. We will all become marketers in and out of our networks, dynamically creating content, responding to change, and seeking new ways to add value. Digital marketers must build social networks, organize and harness mobile interactions, and manage and use big data. In this way, customers can be transformed into loyal marketers and co-creators and developers will be spurred to innovate new products and services.

Ian Cross crop Ask the Experts: How Would You Redefine Direct Marketing for the Digital Age?About Ian Cross
Ian Cross is the Director of the Bentley University Center for Marketing Technology and Senior Lecturer for Marketing and Information Design and Corporate Communications. His research interests lie at the intersection of marketing and communication practice and the impact of technology. Ian’s career spans senior marketing positions at Eastman Kodak, IBM, Wang, Thomson Reuters and several technology and marketing start-ups. Follow Ian on Twitter at @ianrcross.

Customer Engagement Today Requires a Holistic, Enterprise-Wide Approach

It’s about being “Right”: Right Customer, Right Time, Right Message, Right Channel, and Right Metrics. With all the new digital technologies, advanced direct marketing techniques, and tactics, this vision of seamlessly delivering informed, relevant, and measurable multi-channel communications is within reach. The one (big) caveat: customer engagement needs to be planned and supported from a holistic and integrated fashion beyond just the marketing function. To provide a few examples:

  • Standardized Data Design: Especially with all these advanced digital platforms with extensible data models and integration frameworks, you really need to standardize your data hierarchy and metadata structure across all relevant systems to support enterprise-wide analytics, multi-channel communications, and reporting.
  • Institutionalized Contact Definition, Ownership & Rules: Avoid the “contact communication free-for-all” by getting on the same page across all business units, product groups, and channels with how you define your customer and lifecycle, determine who actually has ownership and priority of the contact, and apply frequency, inclusion, exclusion and typology rules.
  • Preference Management: Implement a multi-channel, multi-level, multi-dimensional preference management capability that allows your customers to control their own communication destiny.
  • Attribution: There are so many ways customers are being immersed and influenced with your messaging, both outbound and inbound, online and offline, etc. For this reason, more and more companies are applying attribution models to ensure fair and equitable credit is shared by all.

Cliff Dobbyn Ask the Experts: How Would You Redefine Direct Marketing for the Digital Age?About Cliff Dobbyn
Cliff Dobbyn brings more than 20 years of integrated multi-channel marketing and media experience to his position as Director of Marketing Strategy at Quaero, a CSG Solution. In his role, Cliff drives business planning, roadmap development, customer engagement strategies, marketing and program design efforts, and KPI dashboard designs for clients.

It’s your turn: How would you define direct marketing for the digital era? We would love to read your thoughts and feedback via comments below.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Kristin Hambelton
Kristin Hambelton is responsible for all marketing efforts for Neolane including corporate communications, branding, product marketing, demand generation, partner marketing, and operations.


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