Direct Marketing 101 – Digital Marketing's best kept secret

You might not realise it. But as well as informing traditional below-the-line marketing campaigns, direct marketing sits at the very heart of digital marketing. Here’s the when, why, here and how of it, explained in plain English.

What is direct marketing?

Direct marketing is any marketing activity where you try to elicit a response.

  • You might send out an offer in the post – AKA direct mail – complete with an application form for people to fill in and return. Bringing direct marketing principles and best practice into play means you persuade plenty of them to do exactly that.
  • You might send your target audience an email asking them to click on a link to a landing page – the email and the landing page are both mini-direct marketing projects.
  • You might create a direct response TV (DRTV) advert containing the choice of a freephone number or web page for viewers to engage with – DRTV is also powered by direct marketing

Take things a stage further and you soon realise every website page represents a small DM opportunity. Every good web page deserves a call to action, for example, and powerful CTAs are classic DM.

Every page you create plays a role in driving the visitor in the right direction, further along, the sales journey. Our copywriters take DM into account when creating content for websites.

The creative application of logic

Decode DM and you get something that looks very much like the creative application of logic. The logic bit takes into account the well-documented psychological stages consumers go through before deciding to buy a good or service, and making the process as straightforward and intuitive as possible for your audience. The clever bit is all about delivering the marketing message itself impossible to resist.

Making it easy to respond

One of the keys to DM success is to make it easy for people to respond. If for example, you hide your application form deep inside your website and only give people one payment option they’ll be less likely to respond than if your form is easy to find and you’ve provided a choice of payment options.

Knowing how much you’ve spent versus how much you’ve made

DM is also 100% attributable: I spend £100 on a campaign, I make £200 income as a result. But even these days, with the digital marketing industry maturing remarkably fast, far too many digital marketers don’t bother with attribution.

In many respects, direct marketing is nothing more than common sense. When you know for sure which campaigns perform the best and generate the most cash, you can roll out your approach to a wider audience with more confidence.

What’s the opposite of DM?

Traditionally called ‘above the line’, the diametric opposite of direct marketing is brand advertising. In brand advertising, everything is all very creative and lovely, but the business doesn’t know, beyond quantifying relatively fluffy and un-pin-downable stuff like ‘brand awareness’, how their TV advert or glossy off-the-page creation has performed. It has no way of ascertaining whether it has driven any action let alone generated actual income.

Segmentation, targeting and testing

Many digital marketers are only just starting to take notice of something traditional direct marketers have known for decades. When you segment your customer database into logical chunks and target your offers specifically to those segments, the results speak for themselves.

What does ‘logical’ mean in this context? It depends on your brand, your products and the offer you’re making. Here are some examples:

  • People who have bought from you more than three times VS People who bought from you just once, more than six months ago
  • Individuals who bought product A, to whom you can up-sell product B, VS those who have already bought product B but could be cross-sold product C
  • Band new customers versus loyal advocates
  • People aged 50 plus / under 50
  • People living in postcode A VS postcode B

Segmenting your database means you can target particular types of consumer with offers that have a good chance of being relevant and timely, rather than blasting out the same general message to everyone and his dog.

When you send different offers to different segments and set things up so you can attribute responses and sales on a per campaign basis, your test results inform future creative treatments, special offers and so on. You’re moving into a future where you have a good grasp of what happens, why and when. You have relatively robust empirical insight about how to improve your performance next time and generate an even better ROI.

A direct marketing focus

In short, if you’re doing digital marketing you should familiarise yourself with direct marketing. There are countless books and online resources available. But if you want to read about DM in bullshit-free everyday language you can’t go far wrong with the wonderfully clear and hugely entertaining DM guides written by Drayton Bird, Britain’s best loved home-grown DM guru.