The Years Ahead For ... Direct Marketing

Annette King describes a new approach to marketing communications that can simplify business and yield better insights.

In the next five years, something extraordinary will happen to the pace of technological change in the communications industry. It will start to slow down.

That's not to say that all innovation stops with a jolt. All I am saying is that the extraordinary explosion of alternatives we have seen in the past 15 years will not be quite matched by what we see in the next 15.


Well, there will still be significant technological enhancements for us to look forward to, of course. A super-fast broadband network will connect us all, enabling house-to-house videoconferencing. New technologies such as 3D will start to appear in TV and photography. Social forms of communication will be more powerful than ever. "Widgetisation" will be more prevalent - with widgets and apps perhaps overtaking the browser as the principal means by which we access the internet. And, helped by this widgetisation, mobile devices will perhaps overtake the computer as the principal vehicle for connectivity - overtake, that is, in those parts of the world where they have not reigned all along.

But, significant as they are, these are still changes of degree. They are existing forms of communication made faster, bigger, smaller, cheaper. What they are not is what we saw in the past 15 years, namely the invention of completely new forms of interaction. Just as the gap between walking and a Model T Ford is far greater than that between a Model T Ford and a modern sports car, so the change from print to web, from analogue to digital, is more disruptive than the changes we shall see from now to 2020.

Remember, people in 1950 assumed automotive progress would continue to be exponential. But I haven't seen a flying car yet, have you?

So, finally, in the next five years, the dust will begin to clear.

At that point, with investors shifting their attention from internet ventures to the life sciences and gene-tech (at least I hope so, as I'll be five years older by then), we will finally be able to sit back and ask what we can at last see through the now thinning cloud of dust.

Here's one thing I think will start to emerge.

I think it will become apparent that the world of marketing communications has started to crystallise into two distinct forms - the two forms being distinguished by their function.

The first exists to change the way we think - and is broadly attitudinal. The second aims to change what we do - and is, broadly speaking, behavioural.

The two forms are complementary, of course, but they are not interchangeable. Both will use both digital and analogue media. But they will use them in different ways. The first will use media for their reach and their emotional power. The second will use media for their contextual relevance and their ability to engage, to serve, to change behaviour - and, yes, to sell.

One is the world of "P" - of positioning, perception, price-premiumisation and promotion. The second is the world of "E" - of experience, evangelism, engagement and exchange.

The realisation that marketers and their agencies need to master both fields - both the brand understanding and the behavioural understanding - will bring a welcome clarification to all of us.

For a long time, the scrabbling over budgets has created a strong sense of "either/or" in marketing investment - where one approach is assumed to supplant the other. In some ways, the over-zealous pursuit of integration in the past decade has not helped either, since it was often taken to mean that every communication should be expected to do several jobs at once, which was often not true - or at least far from ideal.

The dawning understanding that there are two complementary activities at work here will be immensely liberating. First of all because it will free up advertising - and the "P" disciplines - to do what advertising does best: use the power of emotion and storytelling to create desire, fame, likeability, fashion and influence around the brands they serve without being unduly burdened by the conflicting requirement to generate immediate sales. At the same time, it will free up the emerging "E" disciplines to use the myriad new tools at their disposal to move people by means of timely, personalised, contextual communication, enhanced service experience, brand engage-ment and, yes, sales.

The new, emerging discipline I shall call digital-direct as a shorthand - though it will also contain large elements of PR and activation in its DNA.

Whereas the "P" disciplines will still focus on large audiences, this new emergent skillset will focus on individual relevance - using the power of new media and database marketing to engage people with specific, timely, behaviour-changing messages that are contextually targeted, or, indeed, self-targeted (search, for instance).

Part of this will involve a return to traditional direct marketing approaches - which have atrophied over the past ten years. It will also resurrect the old direct marketing practice of extensive testing and experimentation, which, in digital media, can be performed at immense speed and at very low cost.

There are obvious advantages to this binocular view of marketing communications. First of all, it will lead to better insights - since we shall look for insights into behaviour as well into attitude. It will spawn better type "P" creativity and better type "E" creativity - since each can focus on separate yet complementary ends. But it will also make for a simpler life, since the objectives and metrics can be drastically simplified.

The British digital, direct and activation communities now contain an astounding range of bright, committed and inventive talents. We have a wonderfully sophisticated market in which to work. If united, we could show the world how to do it - just as British advertising agencies have repeatedly blazed a trail for the rest of the world to follow. Now let's get on with it!

- Annette King is the chief executive of OgilvyOne.