• October 13, 2010
  • By Juan Martinez, Editorial Assistant, CRM magazine

Has Direct Marketing Lost Its Sense of Direction?

SAN FRANCISCO — As a crowd formed outside of the Esplanade Ballroom at the Moscone Convention Center here for Day One of DMA2010, the hype was centered on a late addition to the keynote roster. Singer/songwriter Bret Michaels — the most recent winner of the NBC show Celebrity Apprentice — joined music executive Steve Stout for a discussion on the convergence of entertainment and marketing. But before the several thousand attendees got to snap photos of the bandana-adorned musician, Digital Marketing Association (DMA) Chief Executive Officer Lawrence M. Kimmel spoke about the future of direct marketing and the many misconceptions those working in the industry would need to fight through in order to improve the way brands are represented to consumers.

[Editors' Note: Editorial Assistant Juan Martinez's blogpost coverage of the Michaels/Stout discussion can be found here; his additional DMA2010 coverage can be found here and here.]

"One of the few things I've done every day of my life is change," Kimmel said, as he began his address. He showed a slide of what appeared to be his high school yearbook photo and joked about the laughs this photo — and the afro he sports in it — consistently evokes. "[Direct marketers] have to fully embrace [change] if we're going to change the global economy."

Kimmel expressed his concern that direct marketers were "losing the hearts and minds of a new generation of marketers." With the advent of specialties — mobile marketing, search marketing, and so on — marketers, he said, no longer felt they were actually doing direct marketing.

As evidence of this problem, Kimmel cited a Wikipedia page he saw six weeks ago suggesting that the entry for "direct marketing" be merged with one for "leaflet distribution." Though the suggestion disappeared shortly afterward, Kimmel noted that Wikipedia still claims that direct marketing reaches audiences without TV, newspaper, or radio.

"That's news to me," Kimmel laughed, adding that these misconceptions are troubling because, despite the limiting definitions foisted upon the industry, the job of a direct marketer is harder than ever and direct marketers are wearing more hats than they ever have.

"Each year, 30,000 new products are introduced in supermarkets," Kimmel explained. "And 90 percent [of those new products] fail. There are an infinite number of communication alternatives. The average consumer receives approximately 5,000 ads a day. But how many ads do you remember?"

With so many new products and channels, and an intensifying demand to show return on investment, what's approach can ensure that direct marketers remain effective? The solution, Kimmel told the crowd, remains the same one that has powered direct marketing since its inception.

"Direct marketing is the channel-agnostic approach to driving maximum customer satisfaction and optimal marketplace results," Kimmel said. "The world thinks direct marketing is channel-specific. It has never been. Lots of people are focused on a singular channel, but no company is communicating through just one channel."

The services that the DMA offers, Kimmel said, are designed to help its members stay relevant. He also detailed the DMA's fight against federal privacy regulations that the organization claims will limit the kinds of high-value, highly targeted messages that marketers are able to deliver consumers.

"DMA is trying to find the balance between what's right for consumers and right for our underlying business economy," Kimmel said. "Consumers are surprised to see a third-party advertisement. DMA is trying to change the understanding of behavioral targeting. Consumers think marketers are doing something evil. All we're trying to do is get personalized messages to consumers."

Kimmel ended his address by detailing the societal changes attributable to direct marketing, and he argued that the industry deserved credit for creating and supporting the so-called "Free Economy" of the Internet with its sponsorship of the information available on sites such as Facebook and Google.

"The 'Free Economy' is empowered by advertising," Kimmel said. "[DMA] will find the ways to protect [private information], but at the same time we have to grow this 'Free Economy.' "

The Digital Marketing Association describes DMA2010 as a three-day conference covering all marketing channels — from traditional to digital. The conference positions data and direct marketing as the underpinnings of any effort to enhance the user experience and maximize return on investment. The preconference events began on Saturday, Oct. 9, with official content beginning Monday, Oct. 11.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine.

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