A rebrand alone will not keep DMA relevant

Russell Parsons

Not long after I started at Marketing Week, and began to follow developments in the world of direct marketing, a veteran direct marketer candidly questioned the very point of the DMA.

His lunchtime polemic was that it was a dinosaur wedded to those whose business is a channel, physical mail, out of step with the new digital reality. The new reality, he argued, was that traditional DM does not operate in a vacuum and that much of what people define as digital marketing is DM in the purest sense.

Agencies and clients know this, he continued, but the DMA seemed divorced from what was happening at the coal-face. Membership of the DMA, he warned, would suffer as a result.

Three years on and the DMA is preparing to tell the world outside its walls that it has woken up to the concerns of my lunch companion, and many others in his business.

The Association is preparing the biggest overhaul of its brand identity in its lifetime, just ahead of the launch of several new products and services, hand-holding to those that are trying to make sense of digital channels, how they can be integrated and how they can pay.

The previously “stuffy”, as executive director Chris Combemale put it to me; DMA is no longer a “quasi-governmental legal and compliance department” but an “open, friendly and welcoming” digitally attuned tool for the 21st century marketer.

The DMA has been moving to the middle between physical and electronic DM for some time in the research, expertise and steering groups it hosts. This, however, has been lost on many that continue to see it has a relic that pales in comparison with the “dynamic”, in the eyes of some, associations such as ISBA and IPA, both of which offer a home to direct marketers.

The brand revamp and accompanying communications campaign, therefore, is absolutely necessary. I do not know how well the DMA’s membership and income is holding up, but if it has hopes of increasing it then it needs this rebrand, and accompanying change in principles, to hit home.

The Association has been quietly changing its ways for some time, recognising that digital and traditional direct mail share DNA. What it has not done is tell anyone about it, preferring to bang the drum on comfortable, predictable subjects.

It needs to be a bold thought leader on how DM is changing and how it can help marketers help themselves in the 21st century. A new logo and website is one thing but it will take more than a rebrand to convince my former lunch companion and his peers of real change. The work starts here.

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