Google, back in the early dot-com years, was quick to spot the potential of search and now, as it hopes to buy the $3.1bn (£1.5bn) deal for DoubleClick, it seems it has its finger on another pulse gathering strength – the growth of data, digital and direct marketing, which is having a dramatic effect on the advertising industry and how clients are planning their campaigns.
The main driving forces behind this shift are media fragmentation and with that new opportunities to target and reach customers at a micro level; companies’ growing desire for greater accountability of their budgets; and more immediacy and interactivity of their campaigns. Google is giving brands just the means to do that, providing focused, sophisticated analytics – data on who is looking at an online ad – and charging for campaigns based on that performance. Google and Double Click say they plan to develop tools that will enable advertisers to target their ads more effectively, and help Web publishers generate revenue from more of their pages.
This is putting enormous pressure on traditional ad agencies to have to rethink. Not so for DM, which can really adopt and embrace these three driving force because, like Google, at its heart is the ability to understand and harness the power of customer data and use it to drive activity that both reflects and influences behaviour.
Certainly, the digital era is driving exponential growth in the customer data available – people are more willing to submit personal details online, it’s quicker, less intrusive, but this is only half the story. The real-time implicit behavioural data that digital delivers is where the real opportunity lies. And as the volume of data grows in all channels, so do the skills of the DM industry and its ability to analyse, use and respond to this data which have never been more valuable.
With this knowledge comes the power, not only to find potential new customers but also to take them on a personal journey delivering the right messages at the right time, via the most appropriate media. And thanks to the new digital channel, all of this can be delivered in more cost-effective ways than ever before.
Unlike "pure" digital, the DM industry can fuse who brands want to talk to, what they want to say and where and when it is best to communicate with consumers. This in turn enables the DM agency to deliver individual and effective customer journeys.
Direct marketing’s big opportunity is to understand these journeys and embrace how on- and offline work together to deliver the customer. For example, the death of mail is much exaggerated – but its position within the journey is changing. Mail may no longer be the mass first point of contact, but it may be requested, or passed on to others. In fact many businesses have seen response from traditional media, such as mail, increase when combined with targeted Web activity.
It’s this precise fusion of online and offline communications that is so exciting for the world of DM. It is the key to helping businesses offer personalised journeys taking customers on "unique" purchase paths. Harnessing data and applying it online and offline will help DM create the kind of results that resonate in the boardroom – and put it firmly in the marketing driving seat.
DM’s ability to deliver accountable marketing is already being recognised by more clients, with direct agencies picking up business from both advertising and digital agencies.
So when will the tipping point for DM arrive? First, two things have to happen. Direct marketing must truly and whole-heartedly embrace creativity, not just in the old mail-pack, but by developing big ideas that engage and entertain customers, helping to build brand values throughout the customer journey. Then it needs to relish its new-found role as leader of the marketing industry and stop accepting the support role.
Direct marketing’s day is truly dawning; the alignment of data, digital and direct will create a new bright star on the marketing landscape. All that is needed is for direct marketers to understand the importance of creativity, recognise and reward it, and command attention.
Hugh Bishop is chairman of Meteorite