Direct Approach: Digital's direct roots

The Gyro general manager says digital and direct marketing are based on the same principles.

We are all witnessing the endless possibilities of digital marketing, but we first need to dispel a few myths before they take hold: digital marketing is not just one channel, and integration need not be a mix of online and offline media.

A digital campaign that is focused purely online, and capitalises on the benefits of e-mail, search and video advertising, for example, has as much right to call itself "integrated" as work that co-ordinates DM, TV and radio. In fact, the multiple channels that the digital environment offers are wide-ranging and varied, but they all increasingly have one thing in common - they are based on the principles of direct marketing.

I want to discuss the extent to which the various channels of digital are based upon the philosophy of DM, and how we can call a campaign that uses them together, without involving offline media, "integrated".

I'll begin by using the ever-popular online video ad as an example. It is targeted, contextual, and offers the ability to track customers' behaviour after they have interacted with the brand - all of which are facets of direct marketing. Subsequently, where marketers thought that DM had no place in building brand awareness, now an integrated online campaign can cover both objectives.

Take Mazda and its online video for the Mazda3. A couple sits in a rusting car about to enter a "megawash". As they come out the other side, they find themselves sitting in a brand new Mazda3. In the version targeted at men, the boyfriend has the bright idea about whether or not it will work for his girlfriend, and vice versa in the girl's version.

In an audience-led environment, this type of contextual advertising online is able to deliver different messages to the relevant demographic. And by producing a series of ads around a central theme, consumers can enjoy messages relevant to them. Or, in the case of the Mazda campaign, they can wish them to be true.

According to the Internet Advertising Bureau, TV advertising during 2006 experienced a 4.7 per cent fall in spend to £3.9 billion, while online ad expenditure jumped 41.2 per cent to £2.01 billion. This is because TV broadcasters fragment their audiences, while online marketers are able to reach their target markets directly through several digital channels.

While producing multiple formats of the same ad to target multiple demographics may seem expensive, the approach costs a fraction of the price of a 30-second TV ad. In addition, the direct nature of online video advertising automatically eliminates wastage, since brands only pay for those who select to view the video. And fear not, Mr Financial Director - a recent report from DynamicLogic suggests that web video is the most noticed online format, while the British Market Research Bureau estimates that ten million UK households now have broadband.

On top of that, online video and viral campaigns naturally allow consumers to interact with your product. A popular surfing brand recently allowed consumers to design their own shorts that they could then buy. This was a very quick customer journey, which leads me on to my next point.

Today, with the advent of so many channels, it is totally acceptable to call a purely digital campaign "integrated". Online tracking systems can now provide real-time accountability by counting hits and hotlinks as a campaign spreads across the web. Through tracking the consumer's online journey and using a host of segmentation tools, we have the ability to gather relevant information that eliminates the guesswork still prominent offline.

Using this intelligent customer insight, we can work with media owners and search engines to reach consumers at each stage of their journey in an integrated campaign. By combining the different channels available to deliver a consistent and personalised message, we create much sought-after return on investment, while at the same time enhancing the brand in a media-rich world.

Ultimately, it is this return on investment that makes us accountable. By concentrating on the bottom line, we can deliver profitable relationships between our clients and their consumers because we have direct-marketing principles in place against which we are measured.

So, if digital marketing continues to implement direct marketing techniques, why are the two not being combined and supported? Unilever is one such marketer that has recognised integration and consolidated its digital and direct agency rosters, lowering the number of suppliers it uses from 20 to seven, ensuring consistency across both channels.

Evidently, its approach has worked, because last year, more than 90 direct and digital campaigns were rolled out from across the Unilever portfolio.

As the online consumer drives the digital sphere forwards, so the customer journey time to purchase decreases. Therefore, it is imperative that we integrate our creative ideas across the many digital channels. By using the latest technologies and employing the philosophies of direct marketing along the way, we can begin building personal relationships with web users.

We can ensure we target them with relevant information at the right time, and we can ensure brand preference that is built to last.