Don’t panic! Reports of DM’s decline do not show complete picture

There’s nothing like reports showing numbers heading southward to create an inexorable whiff of terminal decline. In the past couple of weeks direct marketing and direct mail have suffered from studies showing them in reverse.  

Russell Parsons

The Advertising Association/WARC report last week found spending on direct mail declined 1.5 per cent in the first-half of 2013. This after a 0.2 per cent decline in 2012.

News of the disappointing return comes just weeks after the latest Bellwether report found direct marketing spend dipped 3.4 per cent in the third quarter.  Again, the decline was not isolated to the period in question. Despite a slight rise in the second quarter, Bellwether found investment fell in the first quarter of 2013 and the final quarter of 2012.

The story is also converse to the bigger narrative reported by AA/WARC and Bellwether that ad spend is recovering after a period of decline during the recession. Marketers, so industry associations tell us, are loosening the purse strings and are spending again. Indeed, other channels – notably television and digital – are enjoying a relative renaissance.

It is entirely possible that marketers are feeling confident enough that they are investing in more expensive media channels to the detriment of others. It is also possible that the things they found attractive about DM during the recession are not as alluring now the economy is recovering.

The reason, however, is more likely about definition. The AA/WARC report focuses on mail and Bellwether defines DM as direct mail, email, door to door and catalogues.

Direct marketing, of course, is much more than this. In the broadest terms, it is any communication designed to elicit a response. Direct marketing is carried out using on-demand television, social and mobile, media spend that will not find its way into reports detailing the amount invested in DM.

This is not a call for the reporting bodies to change their methodology but a comfort to anyone concerned about negative headlines detailing a declining channel. It isn’t, anything but. Mail, door to door and catalogues are DM but just three increasingly small elements of a thriving channel – despite what the stats show.  

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