Direct to drive social and behavioral gains

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“By understanding [consumers], marketing can better market to them,” Erwin said.

“As different forms of media converge in the future, what is going to become relevant is understanding that consumer across all of these media simultaneously. At that point, there will be no line between direct marketing and any other form of advertising. We'll all be measuring.”

Crossing into other channels

Lines are blurring across the board in the direct marketing industry as companies adapt to that convergence.

“The list industry has changed dramatically,” says Jay Schwedelson, corporate VP at Worldata, a list management company.

“We don't call ourselves a list company anymore,” Schwedelson explains. “List companies have migrated to becoming data agencies rather than list organizations. The suite of services we are providing are very different from 24 months ago. We're in different businesses and competing against different organizations.”

Much of that work is related to Web services.

“We're creating Web environments rather than just saying, ‘here's a list, let me know how it goes,'” he adds. “We're involved from program development to execution and analysis. It's gone beyond simply providing data. We're competing more with ad agencies than we have in the past.”

Many companies in his sector, Schwedelson adds, are having a difficult time making the transition. However, even nontraditional companies are beginning to understand the value of direct marketing principles.

Ask, a search engine, is getting into couponing.

It announced the launch of Ask Deals, a proprietary database of more than one million savings offers from national and local merchants across hundreds of product categories.

The search engine scours the Web – online promotions, store circulars and more than 40 coupon sites – for all deals that are available online, aggregating and organizing what it deems “the best money-saving offers” on the search results page. Part of the impetus for the service comes from the number of its users' coupon searches, which increased by about 50% in 2009, according to Ask.

New reality

These blurred lines and convergence of services are nothing new to marketers, but Erwin said the difference is how close direct marketers are getting to realization.

“We've talked about this for many years, but it will be reality in the not too distant future. Almost everyone in the world of direct marketing already understands that, and they're excited about getting there.”

However, direct marketers need to temper that with attention to some of the challenges of behavioral targeting.

Jerry Cerasale, SVP of government affairs for the DMA, believes online behavioral advertising will be an important discussion among direct marketers at the annual meeting.

He says the issues around what kind of information advertisers use to send the most relevant ad to an individual on the Internet will be a key topic, one that DMA watches on behalf of its membership.

“We'll see a bill on that probably in the new year in 2010,” Cerasale says. The potential danger, he explains, is “if regulations become heavy-handed where you have to opt-in to things like that, it will change the nature and value of advertising on the Internet.”

Therefore, he continues, value “could be eroded significantly. That's a huge issue facing marketers across the board.”

Darviche agreed the danger is significant and advocated for balance.

“The really big challenge is how to absolutely positively continue to protect the consumer's privacy but at the same time keep advancing what everyone knows are the data sets that can do so much for marketers,” he explained. “There are many shades of gray. How to strike that balance is really important.

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