Is it time to rebrand direct marketing?

Direct marketing has had a lot of bad press of late. Almost every day in the early part of the summer we were presented with stories of rogue telemarketers and SPAM texters and their nefarious ways.

Russell Parsons

The glut of news, driven by effective campaigning and PR by Which? and a freshly emboldened Information Commissioner’s Office with a new found purpose to prosecute, even led to Government feeling the need to ensure voters that direct marketing is a “legitimate activity” despite the actions of a few.

Bad publicity is not a new burden for DM, of course. In recent years, there has been an increase in concern over the amount of ‘junk’ mail received, concern gleefully heightened by TV exposes and radio phone-ins.

Herein lies the problem. If asked what direct marketing is, the majority of the British public would confidently answer direct mail or telemarketing. And with this recall comes, for many, negativity.

Direct marketing is a lot more than this. Particularly in this age of big data and personalisation, almost every single channel of marketing communication can be used to directly market to customers and prospects. Social media, data driven ad targeting using on-demand and subscription television, brands using the likes of Shazam to allow for instant response during cinema and TV ads as well as online marketing such as email have all expanded and to some extent redefined what direct marketing is.

So, we have a discipline that is changing at a pace but still dogged by negative perceptions of its age-old name. In most marketing circumstances that would warrant serious consideration of a rebrand.

I am not, at this point, going to throw out suggestions of what alternatives might be considered but I would invite all reading to come up with their own. A name change would, however, improve perception of the channel not only among the public at large but among many in the marketing community that still view direct marketing as old-fashioned.

Earlier this year, a Forrester report called for the term digital marketing to be scrapped. The polemic went that because digital marketing is inherent in all marketing the term was superfluous to requirements.

A similar argument could be made for direct marketing. Data-driven, one to one marketing is everywhere. As has been said before here and elsewhere, all marketing is direct marketing now.

A simple name change will not alleviate the public’s anger over bad DM but it would better reflect reality as well as provide the practitioners with a spring in their step.

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