Direct Marketing Is Not Advertising

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Direct marketing people and advertising people both work in the industry known as marketing. But the types of people they are -- and the nature of what they do for a living - couldn't be more different. In the field of online marketing, the distinction between these two disciplines blurs ... not.

Online marketers often don't realize that what they're practicing is "real-time direct marketing" (first usage). When an agency buys keywords for a client, they are in effect buying (or rather renting) a real-time list of people searching for that topic on that day or week.

Even though buying keywords is similar in style to the traditional business of list management and brokerage, don't expect those list managers and brokers to understand the keyword buying game. To add confusion to the mix, many of these online agencies act and bill like traditional brand ad agency shops. This economic model is flawed, since the billings aren't enough to sustain an agency on a commission basis. Furthermore, few search engines ( is the only one I know of) allow for agency commissions.

Online media buyers are typically looking for results. Why? Because the data is available, that's why. You'd be crazy not to look at the response rates to see how effective your campaigns are. Direct marketers are trained to look for the response rates and react accordingly. But once the campaign stops, so does most or all of the revenue.

On the other hand, those who are true advertisers often (but not nearly always) enjoy momentum after their campaign stops running. This momentum is hard to quantify and trace directly back to the ads. The media weight or budgets needed for the ad campaigns to have an afterlife is very substantial. This is why ad agencies like this type of messaging. They can make some kind of living off the commissions from such budgets.

Like marbles rolling down a hill, you've now got all marketing elements in a free-for-all. The branding ad shops continue to lose share of client spending overall. Offline direct marketers more often than not misunderstand online tactics. Online marketers don't know what part of the marketing wheel they're inventing (so they think, for the first time). Is there anyone I haven't offended yet?

What's a marketer to do? One trend I spot is that more firms are taking marketing functions in-house, for better or worse. Lists are often bought by those who've never bought lists. Copy is being written by those who've never written copy, and so on.

Enter Jiminy Cricket -- the marketing consultant: Firms that take marketing functions in-house often realize they need outside help to show them how to do it for themselves. They want someone to sit on their shoulder and point out the ins and outs of media buying and execution. In my role as Publisher of Web Digest For Marketers, I often find myself performing this function.

What I see is a niche for marketing consultants who get online and offline marketing, as well as the difference between direct marketing and advertising, and understand when each is appropriate. If you're one of those firms who needs to tune up their in-house marketing campaigns, call me. I'll either point you to someone who can help you or simply do it myself.


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