DM and digital, a marriage made for marketers

Mark Thomson, media director at the Royal Mail, argues that although new media has changed direct marketing techniques, it presents opportunities for effective integration and is not a threat.

Mark Thomson
Mark Thomson

Harnessing new technologies to the full extent of their power is a challenge for all marketers. But in spite of the ongoing need for us to ’get with the times’, which takes both effort and patience, these new channels are changing the face of direct techniques for good.

The emergence of a plethora of one-to-one media is giving marketers greater – if not unlimited – opportunities to engage consumers as their behaviour and attitude towards advertisements change.

But as with any nascent technology, there are risks involved if you push the envelope too far and ill-informed use of these channels could easily alienate the very people you’re trying to talk to.

Take the social networking phenomenon. Brands have only just begun to work out the best ways of advertising through, or simply getting involved with, channels such as Second Life and Facebook.

Online media effectively give freedom of speech to the consumer, which has afforded people the power of expressing negative attitudes. In other words, they are at liberty to reject rather than recommend a brand to peers, which can inflict incredible damage on an organisation that doesn’t play by the rules. Common faux pas include interrupting or interloping on consumer conversation, or shouting the corporate message too loud.

It has taken brand owners a long time to realise the error of their ways while saddling up for these new direct techniques. And even now, when many organisations are much sharper about their strategies, new media can still represent a risk as well as an opportunity.

It’s effectively a question of ongoing education. We as marketers ought to be savvy enough to work out the nuances of new technology – and how each new platform should fit into the overall marketing mix – for ourselves.

But equally, we shouldn’t be afraid to call in the cavalry if things don’t seem to make sense. There is a vast market of new media talent out there, the digital natives who can explain the subtleties of reaching out to people through new technology without the need to experiment or propensity to put their foot in it.

Putting the inevitable risks of getting it wrong to one side, new media is a great opportunity for direct marketers to engage the mass market on a one-to-one basis.

And the pace of change is only likely to increase – witness the rapid take-up since the advent of iPhone Apps – and we need to remain astute enough to recognise what makes a good opportunity to reach individuals, or know when people should be left to their own devices.

When it comes to more traditional forms of direct marketing such as mail, many people are sceptical about how the medium can have a role in today’s technologically advance world. But one example that goes against that grain is the Matterbox, a powerful combination of brand activity delivered through the letterbox which has generated a huge amount of consumer interest through social media.

Matterbox was introduced as a letterbox-sized package of brand-representative goodies, sent to specific audiences. The campaign was so well received that positive reviews were posted on more than 100 blogs and YouTube and, within a few weeks of launch, 40,000 consumers had signed up to receive future editions.

That’s just one example of how new and traditional media can work hand in hand effectively – and that means a new way of thinking about creative executions. For example, if someone is viewing a campaign on an iPhone screen, they may well not spend the same time digesting the information or see the work in the same way they would via other channels.

So integrating activities to engage, remind and prompt is crucial to campaign success.

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