Interactive is part of the direct family

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It's fairly obvious that the divide between traditional direct marketing and interactive marketing hasn't disappeared. Take last week's 53rd annual Chicago Direct Marketing Days & Expo. The Chicago Association of Direct Marketing went all out to develop a session agenda that brought together traditional direct subjects such as postal and database marketing along with search, Web design, e-mail and e-commerce. And yet the scene in the exhibition hall was circa 1990: mostly companies serving the mailing and printing needs of marketers. Where were the interactive marketing service providers?

Granted, mail services and printing reflect Chicago's strengths and heritage as the birthplace of direct marketing ­- where would the likes of Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn be without the Sears catalog? The gripe is not with the CADM, but with marketers and vendors. This phenomenon, of interactive marketers not associating themselves with traditional direct marketers, is a bit alarming. It is evident even at the Direct Marketing Association's Direct Marketing Days show held in New York over the summer.

Perhaps the interactive crowd does not want to be associated with the traditional direct. Perhaps they don't consider themselves part of the same family, despite sharing an ROI focus. Perhaps they don't have the budget to attend or exhibit at any more shows. After all, the ad:tech, Search Engine Strategies, Shop.org and eTail shows are not cheap. Or maybe they just aren't aware of conferences like the Chicago DM Days - one of the most convivial and networked regional gatherings of direct marketers nationwide.

It is unacceptable to see such a chasm between the traditional direct and interactive marketing service providers. There is no excuse, particularly when every conference you attend broadcasts the same mantra: multichannel marketing in a consumer-controlled media environment. Today's consumer or business is not going to make a decision based on a message from one channel. Shoppers are not expected to immediately buy or switch loyalties after receiving that message. Technology and higher expectations require that marketers today must nurture a prospect longer and coddle a customer even more. Search alone won't swing the deal if the marketer hasn't paved the way with branding - print, television or radio ads - to earn the consumer's trust. Sampling and experiential marketing may be necessary, too. That's where direct mail, e-mail, direct response television and telemarketing or a combination of them can invite the consumer to try the product or service.

Smart marketers already are using multiple channels to reach out to customers and prospects with attractive calls to action. But they need to make sure their executives are exposed to all aspects of direct and interactive marketing and not just silos that are trendy for that period of time.

Consider all the mergers and acquisition activity in the past few weeks as an indication - at least through buying behavior - that marketers understand the need to strengthen their multichannel offerings. We've reported on almost all of them. It'd be nice to file an article on one show - regional or national - where interactive marketing service providers recognize that exhibiting next to a traditional direct marketer or sitting next to one in a session or during a meal is a necessity and not an option.

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