All Marketing is Direct Marketing: The Evolution of a Revolution

The long-standing definition of direct marketing can just be tossed out the window. Today’s direct response discipline is currently driven by an evolving marketing landscape where the interaction of response, engagement, sales, and measurability is blurring the lines between direct marketing and general advertising. Neither is quite the same. It’s a whole new world.

Or is it?

Direct marketing hasn’t been about “direct mail” for decades. Now more than ever it cannot be defined in terms of any one medium, or as a channel, or in terms of any single technology. It’s not just about “going direct” to a consumer, either. But while the lines are blurring, direct remains a distinctly unique discipline demanding particular skills and techniques.

Nearly all communications today are direct. They all target a segment of consumers or businesses, attempting to generate a first-step response or action to engage with the advertiser. To approach any marketing communication today without direct marketing discipline limits a consumer’s motivation and options to respond—as well as a marketer’s ability to track meaningful response and actionable data.

Increasingly, response is no longer measured only in terms of leads or sales and associated costs. The first visit to a store or website, the first text response – each can be just as important as (even critical to) the first sale.
While measurement criteria now recognize that true engagement may take time, you—and your business—deserve more than an accounting of exposed “eyeballs,” accumulated click and open rates, or mentions in the press. The lines between general and direct may have blurred, but fuzzy metrics such as these are just not acceptable. We maintain that hard-nosed “old-school” numbers such as cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale, and maintaining a positive R.O.I. have inherent and timeless value. They remain part of what makes direct marketing programs from DMW Direct a different and desireable marketing discipline for our clients.

Back in August 2010, Larry Kimmel, CEO of the Direct Marketing Association at the time, reaffirmed this point of view. This is part one in three-part guest blog series that will consider a few brands that have made the journey from direct to brand to “the new direct.”


Government Employees Insurance Company. Yes—I’ve been around long enough to remember that’s what GEICO stands for, even before the recent campaign that actually explains it. Back in the day, the company focused on government employees at the federal, state, and local levels. It did a lot of direct mail and pioneered more effective segmentation methods, response modeling and the like—all pre-credit data. But about a decade ago, Berkshire Hathaway bought GEICO and Warren Buffet put the full muscle of his company behind the objective of making the GEICO brand a household name.

Berkshire went after this goal in a most unconventional way, not with the standard approach of one campaign followed by another over the years, but with each new campaign idea building on the momentum of the last. Remember when GEICO was running numerous ads on multiple media, including online and social: The Gecko, The Cavemen, Money Eyes, and what I call the “Does the bear . . .  in the woods” campaign, with the little piggy crying “wheeee all the way home,” the flagship of the series? Some of these spots are still in use, and have now been joined by the “Happy as…” series, which was new for 2012.

Most DRTV advertisers scrupulously measure cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale by the specific medium and creative that generates the response. When advertising becomes ubiquitous in every medium, the only way to fairly attribute outcome is to accept the fact that all media are working together to produce the remarkable results that GEICO has achieved. In the most simplistic sense, GEICO looks at the entire flow of leads and quotes and sales, and divides each metric by the total media spend to measure high-level effectiveness.

So, is GEICO a direct marketer? Unequivocally, YES. A brand marketer?  Of course.

The next two posts will discuss BlueCross BlueShield and AARP.

Warren Hunter is chairman of DMW Direct.

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