The Best Is Yet to Come for the Industry

If you have been in direct marketing for several years or more, your view of the future probably differs greatly from those Johnnies-come-lately who were attracted to our industry in the late 1990s.

But whether you are seasoned or fresh to the business, you can’t help but be bothered by the rise in negativity in the press and the public’s sometimes distorted perception of our business. Even more disturbing are the rumblings often heard in the industry itself at conventions and in the trade press. No question, direct marketing has taken a pummeling the past few years, but for those who think we are down and out, I suggest you think again. I say the best is yet to come.

Ours is a strange business that few outsiders truly understand. On one hand, we are seen as a technologically supreme and terrifying force in the light of George Orwell’s classic novel “1984.” It is as if direct marketers have secret databases containing an incredible depth of information on everyone everywhere and that we can access this data with the press of a button and predict exactly what someone will buy or how they will react.

Of course, it just ain’t so, even though it approaches a future ideal for some marketers. This view portrays us as nosy neighbors spying on one another without regard or respect for consumer privacy just to turn a quick buck. It provides a comfortable political platform to attack all marketers as crass materialists who would sell their grandma’s medical history on a dark street corner for 10 bucks. But again, it just ain’t so.

A second view regards us as the bastard offshoot of the legitimate field of “advertising.” True, somewhere in the past two decades, direct marketing moved up a big notch and even became the “secret weapon” of some of the larger agencies and their advertising clientele who now even view themselves from time to time as mailers, though that term remains reserved for those who use DM as their main source of developing new business such as catalogers.

So are we “all powerful,” or are we like the Wizard of Oz? Is the future bright, or are storm clouds overhead? Let’s look at the facts, at least as I see them.

Well, Dorothy, things will never be the same in Kansas. Our industry has changed, and many of the changes will make the future more difficult, but not impossible. Topping the list is the issue of privacy as illustrated by the new telemarketing regulations, anti-spam legislation and other acts over the past decade that have wiped out market sectors we once relied upon on a daily basis. Gone are the sweeps names. Gone is auto registration. Gone are driver’s license data. Restriction on the collection and use of data in the credit/financial world as well as education markets has made it difficult if not impossible to gather certain types of data once readily accessible. Can we survive in such a climate? Can we thrive?

History is the best predictor of the future. We have endured a stormy past, and we will move with resolve into a positive future. Like weeds in the garden, we grow in every environment. Direct marketing is the most adaptable, resilient form of marketing. It has an application for virtually every type of business and meets human needs in a way that no other advertising can.

For the years ahead, the winning strategy is to use multichannel marketing, which will include integrated elements working in harmony to achieve an advertiser’s objective. The core of multichannel marketing will be direct marketing and its predictive and analytical nature. And, as I said before, this is just the start.

I see exciting growth and prosperity in the years ahead. The economy has regained some of its strength and is surging. “Cheap” money is readily available at rates lower than we’ve seen in decades. Demand for housing far exceeds supply, and property values continue to rise. Our nation remains the world’s economic engine, and the U.S. Industrial Production Index is on the rise.

According to Alan Beaulieu of the Institute for Trend Research, a leading economic forecasting firm, the economy is in an expansion phase, and we can look forward to prosperity (barring further wars) through 2008. A survey of media planners/buyers done by MediaPost in September confirmed that media buyers are apportioning more of their 2004 budgets to direct mail and e-mail marketing with 4 percent and 11 percent increases, respectively. Also, the reduction in telemarketing should move funds into direct marketing and benefit our industry. Based on other forecasters for 2004, the direct mail marketing community should start lining the streets for a victory parade.

In conclusion, I think you will agree that DMers are innovative, resilient and resourceful. You can count on direct marketing to be a growth medium in the next decade.

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