Why Generation Y loves direct marketing

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Itágoesáwithout saying that you can learn a lot about an industry by attending its events. Last week, Merit Direct held its annual co-op event, a three-day bonanza thrumming with thought leadership, practical advice, historical perspective and, of course, karaoke.

While coverage of the daytime events can be found elsewhere in DM News' print version and Web site, I was struck by what was going on during the evening events. I wasn't the only DM News representative present who commented on the young age of a lot of the attendees. And while it's only to be expected that when 20-somethings get together at the end of a long day of the clever stuff they tend toward exuberance, it wasn't just a case of friends hanging out with friends or reps hanging out with clients. They were drinking and laughing and talking about work û and how exciting their jobs were.

What made the energy and youth even more palpable was something that someone told me the first night. Without going into specifics, this well-respected industry veteran told me the overwhelming majority of the independent catalog owners were well into their retirement years, and he predicted that the private-equity land grab being seen throughout the business community is going to flip the catalog world on its head. What he was trying to tell me was that a part of the industry is dying out û and the natural conclusion to that argument is that there had better be some young talent to come in and take the baton.

A large part of the responsibility for bringing in the right kind of young talent to the industry is down to the universities and the DM companies and marketers who have internship programs. And an obvious attraction is the way the DM world has harnessed the Internet and digital technology.

Until recently, advertising and marketing were the marketing-related disciplines that most graduates were drawn to when it came to choosing their undergraduate major. Today, however, despite which discipline students enter university to major in, chances are the very state of today's fragmented and exciting media opportunities is going to expose them to elements of other disciplines, whether or not they know it.

The Internet is driving so much of our business, whether it's simply e-commerce, social networking or the innovative and relatively new integration between data mining and word-of-mouth communications. Who better to attract to the industry than the young people who have been using these tools in their everyday lives to communicate with their friends? So many of the people I saw at Merit Direct grew up with computers in their bedrooms.

It was no surprise to me to hear those I informally polled saying that they got into the DM industry because they liked marketing, they liked brands and had their favorites, but they wanted to know how it all actually worked.

Consumers in general today are savvy about brands, they know when they're being marketed to and, for Generation Y, the people who are participating in û and driving û consumer-generated media, this is an opportunity to be even more in the know. And they love that.

The crucial element here is to make sure we're properly harnessing it. There are surely programs out there to ensure that we are giving graduates and young people from other industries a compelling reason to join the ranks of direct marketing. But we can't rely on the likes of the industry associations and the universities to take care of this. Companies of all ilks û from the biggest DM agency to the smallest catalog firm to the edgiest digital outfit û need to make sure they are attracting the talent that is going to continue to drive the industry forward and, in 40 years' time, create a whole new set of fears about what will happen when they retire.

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