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The Evolution of Direct Marketing

Direct marketing—a marketing term that some have characterized as a tired or outdated form of marketing—is having its moment in the sun again. Have you spoken to a Gen-Z or Millennial marketer (like me) in the last five years about direct marketing and then heard an audible sigh? I would suggest bringing the topic up again and seeing what kind of response you get this time around.

While it’s true that direct mail is still a viable (if not thriving) marketing channel, many people only think of physical mailers when they hear “direct marketing.” But modern direct marketing has become an incredibly powerful tool for businesses looking to engage with their target audience and drive conversions. Thanks to advancements in technology, direct marketing has opened up new avenues—including email marketing, social media advertising and targeted online ads.

The Roots of Direct Marketing

When you think of traditional direct marketing, do you flashback to a stack of Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogs in your mailbox each month? I personally have very fond memories of negotiating with my mother on which 12 CDs I could buy from the Columbia House for $1!

The idea that there was a way to reach consumers directly in their homes was a game-changing technique that was born in the 19th century, and it has shaped the way marketers think about connecting with consumers ever since.

As we have gained access to more data, we have also been able to refine our direct marketing strategies. The idea of personalizing brand messages has given way to a customized direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing experience between the consumer and advertiser.

The Rise (Again) of Direct Mail

What once was old is new again. From 2018 to 2021, there were a lot of articles published about how direct mail is not dead. In 2022, we saw marketers starting to shift their digital marketing budgets to direct mail solutions. This trend will hold steady as the digital marketing landscape continues to be more crowded and less predictable than traditional offline marketing channels.

The beauty of any direct marketing campaign is the ability to personalize your marketing message and content directly to your audience. Some of the most successful direct mail campaigns I have been a part of took great care to ensure that the imagery and messaging were extremely relevant to the individuals or households that we were reaching. If you are a national brand and have chosen to use background scenery in your images, invest in dynamic images that will update to recognizable landmarks in the areas that you are mailing into. If you are using images of people, make sure that those images are as diverse as your target audience.

Another powerful strategy to consider with your next direct mail campaign is a trigger event. What is happening in someone’s life is immensely impactful to a person’s buying decision. We have seen healthcare, financial, insurance and security companies leveraging direct mail marketing to audiences that include new homeowners, first-time parents, those ready to retire and more. In the same spirit, we have also seen great success with B2B companies reinforcing their relationships with clients by sending personalized direct mail pieces to their customers on the anniversary of their partnership.

Digital Direct Marketing (Yes, That’s A Thing!)

In the 2000s, advertisers started investing in digital direct marketing—think targeted ads through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and digital ads across multiple media channels. This ecosystem has continued to grow more complex, and recently with additional privacy restrictions that are continuing to be defined and redefined, the challenges for marketers continue to expand.

However, direct digital marketing offers opportunities for personalization, quicker insights into your audience engagement, and endless testing opportunities. The most effective direct digital marketing campaigns I have seen recently focus more on aligning your message with the values of your target audience. This must stem from rich insights beyond basic demographic and lifestyles in order to be done well and at scale.

The Future Is Here

Today, direct marketing has evolved even further, with businesses using a variety of digital channels to reach consumers. From targeted ads on search engines to retargeting campaigns on social media, modern direct marketing is incredibly sophisticated and effective.

As we now explore the adoption of AI, by personalizing marketing technology stacks, further refining the ability to track user behavior and personalizing messages based on consumer data, businesses can create highly targeted marketing campaigns that drive conversions and build brand loyalty.

The evolution of direct marketing has been shaped by changing consumer behaviors, technological advancements and industry innovations. From early mail-order catalogs to sophisticated digital campaigns, direct marketing has come a long way over the past century. Today, businesses have more tools than ever to reach consumers directly and build relationships with their target audience.

With continued advancements in technology and data analysis, the future of direct marketing looks promising, with even more personalized and targeted campaigns on the horizon. However, as with any marketing technique, it is important to use direct marketing responsibly and ethically. Consumers have become savvier and more discerning, and they can quickly tune out messages that feel intrusive or irrelevant. Businesses that want to succeed with direct marketing must provide value to their audience, respect their privacy and stay up to date with the latest trends and best practices in the industry.

As the direct marketing landscape continues to evolve, businesses that are willing to adapt and embrace innovative technologies and techniques will be well-positioned to succeed. The key is to stay focused on the customer and their needs, providing personalized and relevant messages that resonate with their interests and behaviors. By doing so, businesses can build lasting relationships with their customers and drive long-term growth and success.

-Originally published on forbes.com.

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