Speaking Directly

Like opening Pandora's Box, putting the question, 'What is direct marketing?' to those who call themselves direct marketers unleashes myriad definitions and points of view.Is it an industry? Is it a strategy? Is it a marketing tactic?Just what is this thing...

Like opening Pandora’s Box, putting the question, ‘What is direct marketing?’ to those who call themselves direct marketers unleashes myriad definitions and points of view.

Is it an industry? Is it a strategy? Is it a marketing tactic?

Just what is this thing that takes the various shapes and methods of traditional mail order, catalogues, out-bound and in-bound telemarketing, computer bulletin boards, tv shopping channels, late-night infomercials, etc.?

In contemplating the question, it seems the best way to come up with a definitive answer is to ask those people who work with ‘it’ every day.

John Gustavson, president of the Canadian Direct Marketing Association, says direct marketing is ‘a marketing technique that allows the consumer or business to respond directly to the supplier of goods or services from offers presented by mail, telemarketing, direct response, print or broadcast advertising.’

Gustavson’s answer flagged one of the key ingredients of direct marketing – ‘respond directly.’

A more succinct definition came from Brent Hollister, vice-president, catalogue for Sears Canada.

Selling technique

Hollister says the medium is ‘a selling technique designed to generate an immediate response from a customer for a product or service.’

Yes, direct marketing is definitely a selling technique, and one that is growing quickly as a look in your mailbox will illustrate.

Had we reached a true definition yet?

There was the reply from Dave Taylor, chairman of Taylor-Tarpay Direct Advertising:

‘In my opinion, direct marketing is rewarding, frustrating, misunderstood, misused, too often misdirected, complicated, simple, challenging and fun.’

Yes, and so is training ducks to walk on water.

Taylor went on to say:

‘Direct marketing is, above all, an approach to marketing communications that has to involve the objective of producing immediate, measurable response to a communications message in one or more media.’

‘Measurable response’ is the one element unique to direct marketing.

Conundrum continued

But the conundrum continued when Brian Fetherstonhaugh, president of Ogilvy & Mather Direct, quoted from Drayton Bird’s book, Commonsense Direct Marketing.

Acknowledging that common sense is the most uncommon thing of all, according to Bird, direct marketing is ‘any communication or marketing activity which creates or exploits a direct relationship with your customer as an individual.’

Finding notions of exploitation a little controversial, let’s choose the key words – ‘relationship’ and ‘customer as an individual.’

What happens when you put these key words together?

You get the following definition: direct marketing is a selling technique which produces a direct, measurable response and forms a relationship with customers as individuals.

It appeared we were close to answering the question of ‘What is direct marketing?’ until Peter Case, vice-president, advertising, Royal Bank of Canada decided to throw a spanner in the works when he said:

‘Maybe direct marketing is the commercial equivalent to a dating service.’

It would seem my colleagues are saying direct marketing is a method of marketing, using various media, that matches products or services with appropriate customers.

Those customers have an identified need for the product or service and will respond directly, so the marketer can use direct marketing to collect information about those customers’ behaviors.

This is in order to offer continued, personalized communications, and to form a longer-term, mutually satisfactory relationship.

Sound like a marriage made in heaven? You bet.

Does it also look as though the answer to the question is long-winded, complex and about as easy to explain as why you left your car in the airport parking lot and took a taxi home? Right again.

Bryan Weaver, director, list management, Harlequin Enterprises, sums it up best when he says:

‘Direct marketing is the marketing idea for the future. While it is an old form of marketing, dating back, at least, to Benjamin Franklin’s time, modern technology and the terrific time presssures on today’s consumers, combine to make ‘it’ the ideal method of selling for the ’90s.’

We should add to Weaver’s reasoning, the high costs of mass advertising for ill-defined returns on investment, increasingly knowledgeable and demanding consumers, and the ever-present desire of human beings in an overcrowded world to be treated as individuals.

And, however difficult to define ‘it’ might be, it would appear the time for direct marketing has come.

Barbara Canning Brown is president of MISCO Canada, a high service direct marketer of computer supplies and accessories. Her career in direct marketing spans two decades, including stints at Sears Canada, Consumers Distributing and Regal Greetings and Gifts where she was vice-president of marketing. She is an active member of the Canadian Direct Marketing Association and was named Direct Marketer of the Year in 1990.