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03.01.2012Author: Jim Capanna Posted In: Big Ideas

Direct Marketing in the 21st Century: It's all about options

By Jim Capanna and Anne Cirafici

There are many forms of direct marketing, all of which have undergone fundamental changes over time. In order to keep everyone's heads from spinning, we're going to concentrate on direct mail - -contacting consumers directly with information about a product or service, and measuring results.
That description has stood the test of time. Benjamin Franklin may not have called his Eighteenth Century catalog operations "direct marketing," but that was the beginning. (Franklin was also a Postmaster General - but discussions about the Postal Service will be a story for another day.) Montgomery Ward followed Ben's lead in the Nineteenth Century. The concept was further refined throughout the Twentieth Century, and could be summed up as "the right offer, to the right audience, with the right creative/package." Direct marketing has always been about change, as marketers sought more effective and efficient ways to deliver that offer to the audience.

Multi-channel campaigns
In this second decade of the Twenty-First Century, direct marketers have more tools and media options to conduct multi-touch, multi-channel campaigns connecting with their customers and prospects than ever before.
The process starts and ends with data -- the information you have about your audience. The better your data, the more effectively you can reach and motivate your consumer. Your database is the biggest asset in your campaign arsenal. "Shotgun blast" mailings are a thing of the past. Today's data management processes allow marketers to fine-tune their market segments to maximize response through targeted, highly-personalized communications. Responder data is then fed back into the database and analyzed for future segmentation enhancements.

There are print production techniques available for every type of campaign, from huge offset press continuous forms for high volumes, to digital presses that make variable data and images effective for highly targeted, small mailings to inline or dimensional approaches for specialty applications.

Embracing the internet
There were those who thought that the rise of the Internet and digital technologies spelled the end of the direct mail industry - not so! DM-ers have embraced those new technologies, and incorporated them into their campaigns.

Where once we debated the response-boosting merits of the Johnson box vs. the P.S. vs. the lift note, and BRE vs. BRC and phone response options, today we have all those and more. Mailers now can use the Internet and other digital media to offer customers the ability to respond via their channel of choice. The simplest approach is to allow consumers to respond on a web page.

The next step offers a personalized URL, perhaps with variable messages and images on the landing page to engage the consumer with the offer. A Quick Response (QR) code printed on the mailer brings the responder to the web page or pURL with a quick point and shoot of a smart phone. With SMS, responders can text a reply to a "short code" to begin the response process. Provide an email address for consumers to contact you. Send an email blast to alert consumers that the offer is on the way, or as a follow up to remind them to respond.
And then there's the social media - Facebook, Twitter, LInkedIn, to name just a few - -the list is ever-growing, driven by the marketplace. Reference your pages in the direct mail piece, encourage consumers to Like, Follow or Connect (or whatever) with you. Post the offer on your page to boost many possibilities!

Real time data collection
All of these options provide great opportunities to collect data about the responders, much of it in real time. What happens to that data? That's where "analytics" come in.

It all comes back to the database, and measuring your results. Your options there are broad -- from a simple spreadsheet with a few key variables, to a more robust relational database all the way to cross-platform customer relationship and campaign management systems, the choices are there to meet your product/brand's objectives and budgets.

Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker was quoted as saying, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half." He certainly wasn't talking about direct marketing - with today's tools, he'd know exactly what was working!

The old adage "the more things change, the more they remain the same" could have been said of direct mail. The concept is still "the right offer, to the right audience, with the right creative/package". What's changed is just the way we do that.

Next time, we'll share with you some insight on using some of these new tools and technologies.
It's hard to keep up with all the changes in the industry today, there's always something new to learn - -that makes it even more exciting and challenging to be a direct marketer! Bring it on, we're ready!

Jim Capanna and Anne Cirafici have worked together (and separately) in the direct mail business for over twenty years. Jim Capanna, currently in Business Development with Princeton Fulfillment Solutions in Robbinsville, NJ., can be reached at Camera-shy Anne Cirafici, a freelance Marketing Communications professional can be reached at:

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