What is Direct Marketing?

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In direct marketing, advertising messages are communicated directly to the consumer, using techniques such as promotional mailers, email messages, online advertising, or newspaper inserts. Direct marketing messages include a clear “call to action,” such as asking the prospective client to visit a specific website, call a particular phone number, use a coupon, or scan a QR code with their smartphone. The call to action is a key part of what distinguishes direct marketing from general advertising, which seeks merely to build awareness or engagement with a brand.

Direct marketing occurs in both business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C) settings. According to the Direct Marketing Association, in 2012 commercial and nonprofit marketers will spend $168.5 billion on direct marketing. This amounts to more than half of all ad expenditures in the United States, and 8.7 percent of  US gross domestic product.

Direct marketing channels include:

  • Email
  • Online advertising (including display ads, search ads, and social media advertising on sites such as Facebook and Twitter)
  • Mobile marketing (using mobile devices as cell phones and tablets)
  • Direct mail via the postal service (promotional letters)
  • Telemarketing
  • Coupons
  • Direct response TV (including infommercials and shorter commercials that ask for an immediate response)
  • Direct response radio
  • Direct response magazines and newspapers
  • Insert media (marketing materials inserted into other communications, such as  catalogs, newspapers, magazines, or bills)
  • Direct selling (such as Avon)
  • Grassroots and community marketing

Direct marketing is used by companies both small and large across a variety of industries. Direct marketing campaigns produce measurable responses from consumers, which is one reason for its popularity. For example, if a marketer sends out 100 email solicitations and 20 customers respond, the marketer knows the promotion garnered a 20% response rate. General advertising does not produce this kind of trackable result, which makes it harder to gauge its impact on the company’s bottom line.

However, direct marketing done poorly can present problems for a company’s image. When members of the public are uninterested in a company’s message, they may perceive direct marketing as “junk mail” or spam. In recent years, consumers have also expressed privacy and environmental concerns around direct marketing. The U.S. government has responded by creating initiatives such as the “Do Not Call” registry, and by passing laws that attempt to curb spam. In addition, marketers have increasingly specialized in more targeted direct messaging, using better geographic and demographic information to deliver promotional materials only to customers interested in the product or service. The use of such targeted message, and the increasing move from print to digital, are some of the major trends in the industry.

According to the Direct Marketing Association, as of 2012 there were 1.3 million employees working in direct marketing in the US. These sales efforts that directly supported another 7.9 million jobs. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track data for direct marketers as a specific role, but they provide the following information about Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers:

  • 2010 median pay: $52.05 per hour and $108,260 annually.
  • Number of Jobs, 2010: 216,800
  • Projected job growth rate 2010-20: 14%  (average)
  • Entry-Level Education: bachelor’s degree