Editorial: Direct will be marketers' go-to strategy this year

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When a company like PepsiCo breaks tradition, skipping $3 million Super Bowl ads for the first time in more than two decades in favor of a CRM program, you know it is a watershed moment. Direct marketing is now the centerpiece of all advertising. We saw other signs of this turning point in 2009, as blue-chip marketers that historically favored TV branding campaigns — such as Ford Motor Co. — embraced social media and online communities to sell products and engender loyalty.

Direct marketers have known for years that direct and digital need to be the core of any smart marketing strategy, but it was only in the past six months that major advertisers converted fully to direct in droves. The economic picture accelerated this trend, as more companies looked for lower-cost marketing efforts.

In addition, consumers give them no other choice. In an age of Facebook and Twitter and mobile devices, customers are more connected than ever, and have access to a host of real-time tools that put them squarely in the driver's seat.

For example, Google Product Search incorporated bar-code scanning for its Android mobile phones in mid-2009, which enables shoppers to scan a barcode and get a list of local retailers that carry the item, as well as how much the item costs in each store. Other smartphones have similar applications.

That means direct response strategy, which incorporates data and customer intelligence, is going to be the only route for marketers. We will see a laser focus this year on improving customer service and CRM programs as companies discover they can best differentiate their product or service based on their relationship with consumers.

In this issue, DMNews features "Direct Outlook" — a look at top trends in 2010 reported by DMNews staff — and a common thread is the use of sophisticated behavioral targeting, customer engagement strategies and personalization capabilities to win customers' hearts and wallets.

Dave Frankland, principal analyst at Forrester Research, calls this the year that customer intelligence becomes reality, in a column on page 12 in this issue. He and Bruce Biegel, managing director of Winterberry Group and our other page 12 columnist, contend this will put greater pressure on companies to create and retain a centralized view of the customer through integrated databases.

Stay tuned. We will witness many more traditional brand marketers get wise to their customers' needs and wishes through the use of targeted, trackable direct response tactics as the foundation of marketing strategy.

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