Digital Marketing, The Other DM (part I of a series)

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Are you a digital marketer or a direct marketer? Perhaps you make the reasonable assumption that there's not too much difference between the two.  After all, leaving out the finer points, both deliver a targeted offer to their audience in hopes of generating a direct response. So how different could they be?

 In fact, digital and direct marketing are quite different. The best marketers in each discipline currently take almost opposing approaches to customer communication.

Traditional direct marketers usually start with an offer and then 'cut a list' most likely to respond to that offer. And the list gets smaller and more select with smaller budgets, more expensive offers and more costly mailings. In fact, with all due respect to creative development and drop management, the key driver of direct marketing success is usually list selection.

 

Successful digital marketers take the opposite approach.  They start with the list - the bigger the better - and then do their best to match individual offers/content/creative to each individual on the list. Because the cost per contact online is effectively negligible (measured in tenths of a penny), digital marketers can profitably send almost every campaign to every zip code, DMA, Simmons segment, Personicx cluster, every single valid address not opted-out.

 

The key to good digital marketing is good offer selection. And the most successful digital marketers design programs where individual customer attributes and preferences determine content. In fact, the traditional marketing concept of a campaign is almost losing its meaning online as dynamic content technology allows a single e-mail or Web page to deliver multiple offers specific to each individual - rather than specific to the campaign.

 

Similarly, individual customers also drive the timing of communications. Marketers still have a marketing calendar that drives campaigns according to company imperatives, but an increasing share of messages are driven by prospect and customer actions. Purchases, registrations, downloads, abandoned purchases, web inquiries, phone calls and e-mails can all trigger marketing messages appropriate to each individual's situation.  And an increasing number of these messages are linked together as multi-stage campaigns. As you would expect, such customer-triggered messages generate far higher returns than the old-fashioned weekly blast.

 

These differences do not mean that digital and direct marketers have nothing to teach each other, quite the contrary.  For example, direct marketers typically leverage a much richer data set than digital marketers, including proprietary and third party purchase, demographic, psychographic, indexing, and other information. Digital marketing programs can be improved through the use of such multi-channel and third party data - not to eliminate potential target but to imply individual preferences where they are not available and to guide the development and presentation of content for all prospects and customers.

 

And direct marketers will have to become more like digital marketers to survive and thrive. As technical advances make all media channels more dynamic and 'personalizable', direct marketing will need to become more customer-centric. Direct marketers will need to develop richer and more robust offers and learn to match them dynamically to smaller and smaller audience sub-segments, and even individuals.

 

Future columns in the series will discuss in more detail ways in which digital marketers can benefit from direct marketing techniques, and vice versa.

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