Direct Marketing: What’s In a Name?


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There has been a sudden spate of articles, social network posts and business lunch conversations around the relevancy of two words: Direct Marketing.

New York University (NYU) cancelled their Direct Marketing course after more than a decade because students didn’t want the course anymore – they wanted “Interactive.”

Digital is Direct and Direct is Digital. Customers don’t think in terms of channels – they want an integrated experience, and the rules and culture of corporate marketing are changing to accommodate this through technology that supports customer engagement.

Acxiom’s CEO was recently quoted as saying “Technology has not been ingrained in the CMO’s mind, because most of them came from the creative side of the house.”

He makes a good point. Most CMOs are not from the direct marketing side, where quantitative methods are part and parcel of the craft, and today’s technology provides better access to data for easier and more precise examination and interrogation.

Now what the above quote doesn’t address is how marketing is moving beyond the service bureau days of campaign metrics such as response and click-through rates. Marketing’s focus has shifted to what Forrester is heralding as “Adaptive Marketing” – the creation of customer experiences with business impact.

The premise is that marketing can be more innovative if greater emphasis was placed on insight versus metrics and experimentation versus analysis. That being said, marketing should be (and is) about the direct marketing mantra of “testing and learning.” Customer engagement is supported by technology that listens, learns and optimizes the way we speak to customers and/or brand participants.

Brands are co-owned by the customers that consume them and customer engagement is key to brand survival – it’s the first touchpoint in any CRM strategy.

However, content (whether it’s user-generated or professional) precedes engagement. The social media universe and creative side of the house both provide grist for that mill.

So, the question is: At the end of the day what engagement metrics do you use for predicting visits, commerce, recommendations, interaction? Aren’t RFM and NPV (CLV) universal marketing metrics? (That’s a rhetorical question).

How do you understand your customer’s behavior and translate that to a direct experience that increases the propensity for participation, purchase and referral? It’s through customer engagement.


  1. Hey SP! Nice article w/ some great informational points. Canceling their direct marketing class, really? Don’t tell Stan Rapp!

    What traditionally separated brand from direct marketing was what? You knew exactly who you were talking to because you knew what name and address to put on the front of the envelope? So you could deliver a personalized experience? Well, from that perspective no doubt digital is the uber direct channel. The more people understood the pervasiveness of tracking online I think the more they’d see the parallels between the two. Social isn’t excluded from this either. There are tons of opportunities to deliver “direct” marketing via social as well.


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