For those long in the tooth like myself, the tensions used to be about the meaning of the “M” – was it “mail” or “marketing”? Only remnants of this confusion remain. Nowadays, all the debate seems to be about the “D” – is it “Direct”, “Data” or “Digital”? While understanding the “M” was important, I think that clarification about the “D” is vital to understand what is going on.
The debate should not be about either/or in the definition. Rather, it is important to understand what any individual means at the time and what their own emphasis is. This is because the three definitions are all valid, they are all capable of standing on their own and they all deliver different outcomes. Often it is worth considering all at once as a pointer to generating effective communications.
So what do I meant?
“Direct” is referring to the content of a communication. It is a persuasive message that is designed to change individual behaviour in a traceable way, via an immediately available response method. To achieve this, it isn’t essential that you have either a database or a digital medium. The best example is charity “chugging” – the street recruiter selects the individual visually, quickly runs through the script and, if they get to the end without a shrug of the shoulders or a kick on the shins, they request a signed direct debit mandate.
“Data” is referring to prior information about named individuals. Nowadays, it can go way beyond a simple name and address and, most valuably, makes links with previous behaviour. But database communications can easily be in contrast to direct ones. Over the years, it has become apparent to me that there are significant sections of the population that instinctively do not respond to direct calls to action – in fact they are potentially turned off by them.. We might therefore dismiss these segments, but they turn out to be a strong source of loyalty, engagement and advocacy.
“Digital” is referring to certain channels of communication. By their nature they have obvious cost, scalability and environmental advantages. But a digital communication can easily be neither direct nor driven by a database. The most successful viral buzzes go way beyond any previously held database and anyone would get quickly flamed if they naively used a typical form of direct communication – it would break all sorts of web 2.0 conventions.
If I want to talk with consumers who will deliver quick, traceable responses to established brands, then I can use a traditional direct communication via the most pertinent channel. If I want to develop a more long-term, high value relationship, I will explore the data available internally and externally to identify independent and persistent behaviour and modify my content to be more tangible and informative.
If I need to enable the launch of something new, then I look to identify the early adopters, those who will lead fashions and drive innovation, who like to be seen and heard. The new digital channels are where these individuals are very active, and provide lots of opportunity for advocacy and comment. But intriguingly, recent research has shown that traditional mail can be a great way to make initial contact with these innovators.
So what is DM? It is of course all three and the best DM practitioners will consider all three aspects – content, source and channel – and make their selections for each in the light of those consumers who can bring them the most sustainable business in the short, medium and long term.