What is direct marketing, anyway?

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You've got to stay on target
You've got to stay on target

Your definition of direct marketing likely stems from where you sit. In other words, the definition varies depending on whether you're a traditionalist, digitally focused or a multichannel maven.

Certainly, however, we all agree that direct marketing is not simply direct mail--though many still equate the two. From there things can get fuzzy. Like CRM — which some define as technology, some as strategy, and others as both — direct marketing for some is about channel and for others is about data.

As for me, direct marketing is just that: direct. It's talking to, or with, specific, targeted customers — with relevancy. That means it creates a virtuous cycle of gathering and using customer data to improve those communications over time. Done well, it will also increase customer engagement and loyalty, as well as marketing and sales performance.

Ideally, direct marketing is multichannel — in most cases, anyway. But, in fact, it's channel agnostic. Direct marketing today can happen via mobile or social or in the contact center as surely as it can happen in the mailbox.

Consider my recent call to Citibank. I phoned the contact center for information about one account. After satisfactorily providing the information I needed, the agent continued the conversation. Surprisingly, he had a holistic view into all of my accounts, including my mortgage and loyalty points. (Yes, I've been in the business long enough to know that even — sometimes especially--the largest companies are plagued by siloed customer data.) This holistic view, and certainly some cool technology, led the agent to make me a highly targeted, relevant offer delivered within context of the conversation. I declined, but the offer was certainly right on the money, pardon the pun.

For me, direct marketing doesn't get more direct than that. So perhaps it's time for direct marketers of every ilk to embrace the phrase. But changes to the practice does beg the question, is direct marketing still the best phrase to describe relevant, targeted, data-based marketing? If you could redefine direct marketing in a word or phrase, what would you call it? Or is direct marketing still the most appropriate name for the discipline?

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