Mention DM to most people and they think of it in terms of specific media and types of activity. But you can send out brand advertising in the post or include a URL in a TV commercial without being a direct marketer.
What gives the discipline its unique identity are the three key dimensions of targeting, response channel, and accountability. All media offer the first of these to a greater or lesser extent. Including a response device is not enough on its own – good direct marketing builds it into the call to action. And critically, you have to be able to associate your targets with your responders.
Digital marketers regularly apply all three of these in their campaigns, yet still do not consider themselves to be part of the DM industry. As a result, they are starting to starve key industry bodies of the resources they need to defend principles like self-regulation.
Take the Direct Marketing Association. Having restructured this year, it is now leaner, fitter and more dynamic than it has been for some time. Which is just as well, given the challenges it faces – ICO Privacy Online guidelines, MoJ reviews of access to the Edited Electoral Register, potential reviews of the PECR laws to name just three.
It has a good track record of retaining members. But it is facing a decline in its revenues because of how those members define what they do. Whereas in the past a marketing agency that included direct mail in the media mix it used would willingly sign up and pay its fees, now agencies may deny that they are direct marketers at all.
Do search and email count as DM? Often they do, but if they are not counted by an agency as part of its DM revenue stream, it gets to pay a lower fee. Since these are based on self-assessment, the DMA has to take the agency’s word for it that it is only a minor player in responsive marketing terms.
The truth is that more agencies are doing more DM, rather than less. It is just called digital, search or mobile marketing and many of its practitioners are too young to understand the similarities or too wily to admit them.
Are some agencies bending the truth to keep their fee down? Of course. But they also do it because they dislike the perception of direct marketing. For the good of the whole industry, it is time to accept the truth and get over it.