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DM Views: Reflections on the DMA Convention

I’m frustrated. As direct marketers, this is our moment to shine. The world of advertising is in radical transformation. The pillars of the ad business — 30-second commercials, radio advertising, magazines, newspapers and even direct mail — are losing their effectiveness. Viewership, readership and response rates are declining while costs continue to rise. Consumers are rejecting conventional intrusion advertising en mass and gravitating to inclusion advertising: keyword search, e-mail marketing, targeted online communications. Marketers are demanding greater accountability and better ROI.

Yet it doesn’t seem as if direct marketers are doing enough to champion our cause. We are not leading the marketing community.

As I walked the exhibitor floor at last month’s DMA¥05, listened to the sessions and reviewed the list of attendees, it seems we are still too channel-centric — still focused mainly on direct mail. It did not feel as if we are leveraging our unique ability to solve the challenges of a broader range of marketers, nor did it seem that enough marketers from outside the DM world were there to learn about our superior approach.

As marketers worldwide seek new communications solutions and expand use of product placement, buzz marketing and other unconventional techniques, we should be the ones leading in multichannel results analytics. We should help them navigate the waters of communications investment decisions. We must understand the emotional drivers of segmentation, not just the behavioral drivers. Lastly, we must own the Internet channel. It is our future. It is our medium. We need to do a far more effective job of claiming it.

Now, I know there were sessions and exhibitors addressing the topics above. I also think John Greco has made significant progress in his first year as the DMA’s CEO — and I’m a huge supporter of him. But as direct marketers, we need do more — and faster.

I agree that the DM industry has a branding problem. Not only does the outside world not understand what we do, I think too many people in direct marketing don’t understand what we do. They think we create and implement direct mail, DRTV, telemarketing and e-mail marketing campaigns. They think those channels define DM. But they are wrong. We are not channel-centric. We are in the business of communications optimization. We are the ones who understand how to most effectively and efficiently sell goods and services.

Some think the term “direct marketing” is antiquated. I say those people don’t understand what direct marketing is. Direct marketing, at its best, pulls together behavioral and psychographic insights, packages them together in a way that builds brands and businesses simultaneously — all while driving maximum profits in a statistically reliable way. Direct marketers hold marketing’s Holy Grail. The world just needs to catch up. This is why we have never changed the name of Grey Direct. We are confident we will be in the right place when the world finally becomes enlightened.

I made a decision 23 years ago. I left general advertising and dedicated myself to direct marketing. I was convinced that it was the future — that someday, we would be far better at understanding consumer behavior … far more efficient in delivering our marketing messages across channels … and we would still be unsurpassed in our ability to track profitability. I believed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the future of marketing would belong to DMers.

The future has arrived. This is our moment to shine. We can’t let this opportunity pass us by. I hope we can do far better at getting our message out when we get together next year in San Francisco. Finally, I’m sorry if this message ruffles some feathers, but I will always, always be direct.

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