Direct marketing is a strategy for selling products and services directly to customers. Direct marketing materials are crafted with a specific customer in mind, whether by customizing who sees them, or by personalizing the message itself. Direct marketing is often contrasted with mass advertising, where a single marketing message is delivered to a wide audience.
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Forms of direct marketing
Direct marketing strategies typically consist of digital and/or print mediums, including:
- Email marketing
- SMS marketing
- Brochures and catalogs
- Targeted social media ads
How direct marketing works
At its core, direct marketing’s aim is to deliver a specific message to a specific person. As a result, the success of direct marketing relies on information that has already been collected from existing or prospective customers. Sometimes the customer provides this information to the business directly; for example, a company’s customer relationship management (CRM) system might contain a current customer’s email address, phone number, and mailing address. From there, the business can create direct marketing campaigns that target those customers who live in a specific geographic location or have a history of purchases.
Alternatively, a business might solicit this information from data brokers, though the use of this information is often subject to consumer privacy and protection laws like GDPR and CCPA.
In the last decade, businesses have used the data a social media platform collects to target ads on those platforms based on users’ behavior on that platform: liked or shared content, engagement with similar brands, and other behaviors. For example, a business that wants to run an advertising campaign on Facebook can target specific users based on the data that Facebook collects. The business doesn’t see the data or the individual users, but it doesn’t need to—it only needs to decide which parameters to target.
With either approach, the next step is to tailor the content of the advertisement to the audience. This kind of personalization might be as simple as using merge tags in the body of a marketing email, or including geo-specific details in an ad graphic. The ad’s call to action (CTA) should ideally be tailored as well to calculate conversion rate and ROI. Links and promo codes, for example, can be customized according to the specific campaign so it’s easy to determine which ones are most effective.
Direct marketing advantages and disadvantages
One of the biggest advantages of direct marketing is that it’s easier to optimize a marketing budget to drive revenue. With mass advertising, a significant amount of money is wasted on delivering the message to people who may never become customers. With direct marketing, it’s easier to track the campaign’s performance and sales that are a direct result of a specific campaign, then adjust under-performing campaigns to make them more effective.
On the other hand, direct marketing campaigns usually have less impact in terms of brand elevation and exposure to new customers. Sometimes poorly executed direct marketing campaigns can be perceived as “spammy” or end up in the recipient’s spam folder. Direct marketing strategies also face challenges associated with privacy; not only are there regulations that restrict how consumer data can be collected and used, but some platforms have also started shifting toward privacy-focused data collection policies. For example, Google recently announced plans to remove all third-party cookies from its Chrome browser by 2023. This will mean the data used in direct marketing campaigns will be more limited and marketers will have to find alternative means to reach their target audience.