The Direct Approach: Digital's Direct Consequences

What does the onset of digital mean for direct marketing? Kevin Johns discovers it is risk with the promise of reward.

Ten years ago, I was given the following demonstration: hold a Sunday paper at a particular angle above the dustbin, give it the lightest of shakes and, hey presto, you've disposed of all the direct-mail inserts. Job done, you can get on with the business of reading the news, without fear of leaflets showering the kitchen floor.

Now, I'm not suggesting use of this direct route to direct-mail disposal is widespread. In fact, the world has moved so fast over the past ten years that attempting to communicate with consumers through an inappropriate channel is much less of a problem. Brands know that if they are to survive in an age where technology empowers consumers to shut out almost any communication, they have to work harder than ever on how to engage them - by talking to them in the right way, at the right time.

Whether it's e-mail, online, SMS or interactive television, new connection points offer a level of interactivity and rapid response that are understandably attractive. Especially if you're under pressure to deliver measurable, ROI-focused activity. All rather frustrating if you're a fan of brand-building 30-second spots or a glossy bit of press advertising, though. As ever, greater chunks of marketing spend are diverted in the DM direction.What's clear from these pages is that DM, despite being regarded for years as the ugly face of brand communications, has steadily risen up the pecking order when it comes to client perception. And while that's hardly breaking news, the lengths the industry has gone to achieve this shift are telling.

It's not simply down to a greater demand for accountability and measurement within client companies. The quick reactions and bright ideas when it comes to embracing digital media among the DM community should be given much of the credit.

Maybe it was living with those negative perceptions for so long that prompted DM to adapt to change more quickly than some of the sectors that previously held all the sex appeal.

And there is more growth to come. Its roots put it in a strong position to make the most of the latest digital craze: social networking. But, as Thomas Curwen of Publicis Dialog points out (page 29), while DM has a heritage in relationship marketing, it will still require taking a few big risks here to make the most of the opportunity. If it does though, DM could have consumer relationships in the digital neighbourhoods of the future that run little risk of ending up in the bin.

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