The New, Improved Direct Response

Between today’s abundance of data, scale of digital, and shift in media consumption habits, the definitive concept of direct response marketing is changing. While TV remains a powerful channel for all forms of marketing, including direct response, many digital channels have matured into engines of personalization and direct, highly targeted customer communication. Understandably, marketers have flocked to these digital channels, suffusing their efforts with strategies that encapsulate the as-seen-on-TV direct response marketing of yore.

“The granularity of targeting that is available to direct response advertisers today has grown immensely,” says John Faris, VP cross channel marketing at marketing agency Red Door Interactive. “The ability to target ads based on social relationships, behavior, and real-time location provides a distinct advantage over older forms of [direct response].”

Here, we examine social, search, and of course TV, to gauge the evolution of direct response marketing, while touching on its persistent pain points.


Social media has grown into one of marketers’ most powerful direct communication channels, largely off the strength of its inherently sociable nature. Marketers have embraced social media as a premiere channel for delivering relevant, actionable marketing through each network’s unique approach to advertising.

“Social platforms are aggressively expanding direct response options for advertisers in 2015,” Faris says. “In just the last 30 days YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest have all added ‘buy now’ or ‘shop now’ buttons; Facebook and Twitter were a little further ahead of the pack, having launched their direct response ad products [earlier].”

Facebook, the largest social network by far with more than one billion users, has been especially supportive of direct response marketing on its platform. “Facebook’s biggest innovation in direct response is what [it] calls Custom Audiences, which enable marketers to segment their customer file in intelligent ways, and then reach those customer segments with targeted ads,” says Bob Buch, CEO of advertising agency SocialWire. “As Gmail and other email providers are increasingly relegating marketing emails to a secondary inbox, marketers are more in need than ever of new ways to reach those customers.”


While social continues to mature into one of the most powerful and innovative marketing channels, it still lacks the pedigree of older digital channels such as search. Much like its display and email cousins, search has become a staple in digital marketing; one that no business with an Internet presence can afford to ignore.

“Search provides a means to reach people that are seeking out relevant products, services, and topics, versus pushing messages on people that may or may not be interested in what you are offering,” Red Door Interactive’s Faris says.

Retargeting is another powerful component of search marketing, one that increasingly translates to social and other digital channels. “Retargeting is a must-buy for retailers doing direct response advertising to serve as a safety net to make sure they capture all the demand created through other channels,” Buch says.


Despite all of the innovation and growth of the newer channels, marketers must consider the symbiotic nature of these channels. Digital channels often work best in concert with each other, which is a strength of the medium. Due to the inherent fragmentation of digital media, however, scale is often a trade-off for highly targeted, integrated digital campaigns.

“The only two places [marketers] can effectively advertise online and achieve any scale are Facebook and search, and search is a very distant second,” notes Dick Wechsler, CEO at marketing agency Lockard & Wechsler Direct. “You can do a search campaign and maybe get 100,000 impressions. That’s great, but when you launch on TV, within a day you can reach 20 million to 40 million. Within that universe, you are exponentially increasing the number of qualified prospects.”

Scale has always been one of the most attractive aspects of direct response TV marketing, and when used in conjunction with other channels, TV can fuel incredibly wide-reaching direct response campaigns. “Ads on TV used to have an 800 number at the end. Then they had a website URL. Now they have a Twitter handle,” says Johann Wrede, senior director of marketing at SAP Customer Engagement. “The transition has been to move from pure broadcast channels to these others, where you can measure.”

What’s next?

As with all marketing, direct response campaigns must continue to reward action, and one way to do that is by using customer behavior data to further contextualize campaigns.

“The big thing now with direct response is context,” Wrede says. “It’s not good enough to put an app on my phone and give me 20% off. I get enough notifications. The key to exploring these new channels is around the context and presenting that information in a way that it’s no longer marketing; it’s information.”

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