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Has Direct Marketing Come Full Circle?

Posted by Andrew Edwards on July 22nd, 2011 at 8:36 am

. . .or has digital marketing finally come to admit it’s a form of direct marketing?

Either way, the recent announcement that web analytics industry pioneer Rand Schulman is joining the Board of Directors at the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation represents a watershed moment in that organization’s forty-six year history. And Terrie L. Bartlett, President of the DMEF, seems to agree. Recently she said that while the DMEF board has a number of illustrious figures, Rand would represent what amounts to a “very new set of eyes for the DMEF”.

The similarities between what Direct Marketing has been, and what Digital Marketing is today, go more than skin-deep. Ms. Bartlett says Direct Marketing can be defined as “marketing that’s measurable”—and it used to mean postcards in the mail (for example) that had certain identifying characteristics that could be tied to response. To a digital marketer, those sound like very familiar descriptions of what they expect out of their on line marketing efforts. In fact, there is no shortage of evidence to suggest that some of the seismic shifts in ad spend taking place today—mostly moving mountains of marketing dollars away from print and into digital—are due in large part to the fact that digital marketing is the most measurable of available media.

So one of the most senior members of the web analytics community now joins the board of one of the foundational organizations in direct marketing. Are we to expect our physical mailboxes stuffed full of postcards with digital memory chips? Not any time soon. But what we know is that the DMEF (affiliated with the perhaps better known Direct Marketing Association) is committed to attracting, educating and placing the next generation of marketing leaders into key marketing positions. And if you did not know, I can tell you now that Mr. Schulman is deeply committed as well to educating a new breed of marketers who understand both business and interactive technology.

Can Mr. Schulman’s “new eyes” and Ms. Bartlett’s organization make marketing music together? In all likelihood it will take some time to get the orchestra playing a new song tuned to digital. But the rehearsals will be shortened because we are now seeing a generational confluence. Schulman is actually an ex-direct marketing guy. He knows what Pantone colors are; and knows too the value of a “clean list” of prospects. And yet he also brings to bear a deep understanding of web analytics, which has been called “the art and science of measuring web user behavior to inform marketing decisions”. In quantifying that understanding, let’s briefly note that Schulman is ex-CMO at not one but two major web analytics tool vendors, WebTrends and WebSideStory (now part of the Adobe Omniture suite).

With the rapid changes taking place in media generally and marketing in specific, it only makes sense to seek a blend of time-tested “measurable marketing”, and the exploding universe of digital marketing—which has always been inherently much more measurable than any other form of the art.

Marketers everywhere stand to benefit. For as groups like The DMA and the DMEF work to aid the direct marketing industry, they will be able to work even more effectively when their efforts are tuned more finely to the opportunities and needs proposed by their digital constituents.

Some day the last direct marketing mailers may drop at the last distribution point; and from that point on, there may only be one kind of direct marketing—the kind that shows up in your browser. And with the timely changes taking place at a longtime player like the DMEF, it will be good to know that the marketers working to keep content free because of measurable advertising will have a source for academic research, location and nurturing of great young marketers, and no small amount of much-needed advocacy.

Disclaimer: Mr. Schulman is a member of the Board of Advisors to Technology Leaders.

4 Responses to “Has Direct Marketing Come Full Circle?”

  1. Andrew -

    It's really interesting, when I started in marketing, Direct Response was the ugly step sister to the brand guys, and now look what's happened. You have a great persepective!

    Rand Schulman

  2. Actually, Direct Marketing refers to an overall approach to marketing, rather than any particular medium. TV and radio ads with 800 numbers are Direct Marketing, magazine and newspaper ads with 800 numbers and website URLs are Direct Marketing. Email is Direct Marketing.

    Direct Marketers have merely applied what we know about generating response -- how to write copy that sells, how to craft offers that motivate action, how to design layouts to move the eye, and how to track and analyze results -- to digital media.

    Direct Marketing publications and conferences have been filled with Digital applications for the past decade or so (maybe longer). So I don't see the DMA having to skip a beat in further embracing digital analytics. It's telling that Mr. Schulman has a Direct Marketing background, for it's been the Direct Marketers who have always been tracking and measuring everything.

  3. John Liebenthal says:

    "digital memory chips" ??

  4. steven weiss says:

    The bottom line: marketing must exceed its cost of capital. Digital marketing,
    Direct Marketing are means to an end---this mumbo-jumbo is just that.
    It reminds me of a doctor whose handwriting you can not read.

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