Don't get hung up with direct marketing's image

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Over lunch recently with the leader of a major direct marketing agency, I had the conversation again. You know, the one about the term direct marketing and what it really means, and whether it is still relevant?

As the newly minted editor-in-chief of DMNews, the topic of direct marketing and what it means and who it applies to is on my mind a great deal. My most important job is "keeper of the brand."

Problem is, many people in our industry are questioning what the letters represent, what they mean and whether they are still relevant in the digital age. Some say that the letters DM conjure visions of traditional direct mail and argue DMNews is so much more. Even direct marketing as a term gets pigeonholed as dated. Don't get me wrong. These are good questions. After all, DMNews covers both direct and digital disciplines. E-mail marketing, search marketing and social media are all arguably direct response vehicles.

The Direct Marketing Association is contemplating a name change to better reflect its mission. It has happened before. It was once the Direct Mail Marketing Association, and the Direct Mail Advertising Association before that. Perhaps it is time again. In fact, the association's DMDays, the annual regional direct marketing conference in New York in June, may be a test balloon. The confab was just re-named Digital Marketing Days to reflect a more cutting edge focus on interactive marketing.

The DMA's membership roster includes companies such as Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and Xerox, and nonprofits such as the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and The Nature Conservancy.

That's the thing. The industry cuts a wide swath. These disparate organizations all traffic in direct marketing. No wonder direct marketers have an identity crisis.

The editorial staff at DMNews has an enormous roster of companies to follow on a day-to-day basis. It gives us the opportunity to chronicle a variety of brands and personalities that make up the sector.

Zappos' CEO Tony Hsieh and Amazon's Jeff Bezos? Both direct marketers. Michael Dell is a direct marketer. So is John Meyer, CEO of Acxiom. American List Counsel CEO Donn Rappaport is a direct marketer. So is Scott Monty, who handles social media strategy at Ford Motor Co. As is Bill Nussey, who heads up e-mail firm Silverpop. Don Scales, CEO of search marketer iCrossing. Check. And Shelly Lazarus, chairman and CEO of Ogilvy & Mather? Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP? Martha Stewart? Yep. Direct marketers.

I love this industry. How cool is it to be covering a discipline that puts me at the annual Google Dance on the search leader's campus in Silicon Valley one minute and walking the tradeshow floor at the National Postal Forum to the whir of industrial mail-sorting machines the next minute? Okay, well, it was a bit loud. Actually, both events were loud. Point is, direct marketing is interesting and complex. Let's not get hung up on terminology. Isn't it more important to practice a discipline that works, that helps move mail, move catalogs, move more dollars to the bottom line? Does it really matter what we call it, as long as we do it?

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