For all the glittering prizes bestowed upon us by the digital space, it still pays to hold on to one fundamental truth – the principles haven’t changed, just the methods. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said “the man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble”.
Direct marketing is not a method, it is a set of principles. The meteoric success of pay per click owes everything to principles established in a golden age of mail order by pioneers such as John Caples and Claude Hopkins. Through painstaking trial and error, they forged a new discipline. The science of direct marketing was born, giving rise to split testing, headline rotation, demographic targeting, benefits-centred copy, ad tracking and metrics – all concepts, of course, that will be recognised by today’s web marketers, and yet they were conceived the best part of a century ago. Google’s sophisticated algorithms exist to perpetuate these same time-honoured principles, not to replace them.
The web is arguably the purest one-to-one communication channel there is, and undoubtedly it is the most powerful. But long after it has been superseded by the next technological innovation (difficult to imagine, yet inevitable) direct marketing will persist, because it is governed by universal principles.
For me, the magic of direct marketing is its enduring adaptability. Unlike pure-play digital or conventional advertising, direct marketing knows no boundaries when reaching its audience/ letterbox, inbox, TV or handset – whatever it takes to deliver the message. Direct marketing grants us permission to go, quite literally, anywhere. A couple of years ago, the public health charity ASH wanted to target British American Tobacco shareholders. To get their message across they devised an audacious guerrilla and ambient campaign outside London’s Mermaid Theatre, where BAT’s annual meeting was taking place. Was it direct marketing? Absolutely. It was the most efficient and cost-effective way of delivering their message to a clearly defined audience. As demographic targeting goes, it doesn’t get any better.
In whatever form it takes, direct marketing remains peerless as a means of engaging with people one-to-one and compelling them to take action. And while today’s net-savvy consumers increasingly prefer to transact with brands online, it’s worth remembering that for every broadband connection, there’s still a letterbox.
Mike Welsh is CEO of Publicis Dialog
Publicis Dialog is a member of the MCCA
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