DM has changed, Bellwether needs to change with it

“Direct marketing is any channel that uses personal data for one-to-one communications,” says Direct Marketing Association chief executive Chris Combemale. An anonymous contributor to last week’s DM missive sympathised, declaring the channel is made up of “any form of marketing communication, designed to elicit a response from the consumer”.

Russell Parsons

All direct marketers know that their job is about more than just advertising mail. Accepting the above definition, it also encompasses mobile, social and email as well as other physical methods of communication such as catalogues, vouchers and coupons.

It is unlikely that any analyst or marketer of any leaning would argue with this position. As a well worn mantra of recent years goes: “All marketing is direct marketing”.

So, why is that direct marketing is defined so narrowly by those that attempt to measure its use? Last week, the IPA Bellwether Report – which gathers together data on direct mail, email, door to door and catalogues – reported that DM spend fell 3.2% in the first quarter.

This less than impressive news comes just a week after AA/Warc figures – which are even narrower in their definition of DM in that they include physical forms only – also found DM in a slump.

No self-respecting marketing director is going to shun DM based entirely on the news that direct marketing as recorded is in decline, actual return on investment will provide an actual barometer of its worth. Reports highlighting a flight away from the channel, however, do not provide the best PR.

Where others are spending their money, especially the 300 senior marketers at large companies polled by Bellwether, is valuable intelligence. It helps those considering their next move to make it.

If a channel is being used, then it is likely being proved successful, people may conclude. One that is seeing a flight away, others might deduce, is a declining medium that should be avoided.

A land-grab of other channels is not the answer. An unseemingly turf war where representative trade associations dispute the ownership of media does not benefit anyone.

If studies are to continue to report data, then they should clearly mark it as appropriate – advertising mail and or email – as easier to quantify as other “traditional media” such as press, television and radio.

The nature of direct marketing has changed. Marketers know this, financial directors know this and customers care less. It is only right, therefore, that researchers reflect this by dropping the direct marketing moniker from their reports.

Being associated with what will be a declining media will continue to reflect badly.

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