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Ask the DM Expert: Peter Whelehan

DM: Piecing Together the Jigsaw of Integration

Peter Whelehan runs DMCM, a specialist independent direct marketing project management and consultancy business. He is a former board member of the Irish Direct Marketing Association.

The aim of this article is to explore direct marketing, what’s at its core and how best to integrate it with other media.  This is of particular interest today given the increasing marketing focus on areas such as digital media and social networking.  But also the counter-intuitive prediction by the Direct Marketing Association in the US that print-based expenditures will actually rise over the coming years to 2012 as traditional mass media channels such as press, magazine, TV and radio continue to struggle.  This gives an insight in to the future macro-environment marketers may face.

While today’s consumer decision-makers are undoubtedly well informed, they also have an increasingly wide variety of media to consider when making purchasing decisions.  A corollary of this is that direct marketers have an additional headache when planning in terms of where exactly to allocate marketing spend to get the best value (and results) across this increasingly fragmented media landscape.  It’s essential that direct marketing communications are properly targeted, highly creative and that, where possible, they contain a relevant and appealing offer along with a clear and strong call to action.

In order to get the optimum results marketing messages must be cleverly integrated across only the most relevant DM media and in a highly creative way so they strike a chord, stand out and capture the imagination of the target audience.

But what’s also crucially important is that the media chosen complement each other and that the timing of the media placement or channel used is well thought out. For example the direct marketing phase of a major advertising campaign should rarely, if ever, precede the above the line brand awareness phase.  The brand advertising almost always needs to happen first, to build awareness and familiarise consumers with the brand.  This in turn makes it easier for subsequent direct marketing communication to generate a response. 

The downturn in the economy has also encouraged marketers to look more closely at campaign costs.  A client of mine was recently considering direct mail versus the quick, easy and low cost of an email campaign.  Their preference, in order to keep costs down, was for email. But after a split test we found that, in terms of cost per response, direct mail actually yielded better results.  So as untargeted email and spam continue to bombard inboxes everywhere the enthusiasm for email, as an ideal direct marketing medium, is being challenged by a bit more scepticism.  Concerns are mounting that email marketing may well be heading towards saturation point.  And there are murmurs now that social networking media may well be heading the same way!

Consider this.  A recent study from blog found, incredibly, that of Fortune’s list of the top 100 CEO’s in 2009:

  • Most are absent from the world of social media
  • Only two CEO’s had Twitter accounts
  • 81% lacked a personal Facebook page
  • Only 13% had profiles on LinkedIn
  • Three had more than 80 LinkedIn connections but they came from tech companies
  • Not one had a blog comments that these numbers seem very small for leaders whose customers’ lives are becoming increasingly integrated with social networks.  Research firm Gartner estimated recently that half of company’s social media campaigns will be unsuccessful.  I’m simply mentioning these facts to bring some balance to the social media debate and how useful social media can and will become.  As I write this article I hear that Murdoch’s News Corp is shedding 30% of its Myspace staff!

Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely a place for social media but all I’m saying here is don’t get over-hyped about it!  In the current downturn companies (and brands) need to strike a balance between having a presence in all the social media channels, at any cost, and adopting a wait and see attitude.

Similarly, consumers often see through poorly planned digital campaigns that can often be sent out because they’re quick and cheap. Or they initiate social networking campaigns simply because ‘everyone else is’, rather than being more strategic about it. Increasingly discerning consumers usually appreciate the extra time and effort taken in putting together well-planned direct marketing communications, involving multiple media.  So there’s often no better place to build a direct marketing campaign than from the bottom up, with direct mail as the foundation.  Well-targeted direct mail has in built credibility versus other less tangible media and is often more creative and engaging.  In short it’s better at telling consumers what every consumer wants to hear - that they’re special!

Direct marketing is gathering momentum again quite simply because it delivers highly personalised messages in the most creative way possible.  Consider how Diageo have transformed many of their brands with cutting edge direct and relationship marketing activity that delivers measurable results across multiple DM media channels.  While Diageo often integrate across multiple media the core below the line medium for many brands, and a key piece of the integration jigsaw, is direct mail.  Often direct mail is used more heavily in the early stages from acquisition, to build a strong relationship and thereafter at key strategic points in the marketing calendar.  This is supplemented by email, SMS, digital, social and other media to support the brand with more tactical ongoing retention communications throughout the year.

So direct marketing, and direct mail in particular, remains the valuable ‘workhorse’ for targeting well-defined audiences with highly creative, relevant and engaging communications.  Crucial to all direct marketing activity is obviously the database.  Here transactional history can be accessed at push of a button and can be used to devise campaigns to cross sell, up sell or reactivate lapsed customer.  But also to profile and cleverly target potential new customers. The database, by its nature, allows for detailed campaign tracking but not in terms of vague measures of ‘spontaneous awareness’,  ‘top of mind’ or ‘prompted recall’ but more tangible business metrics such as ROI, qualified leads and even physical sales.  What’s important here is that the response is seen as the start of the process/relationship which should build continually over the long term as the relationship becomes longer and deeper and the consumer becomes gets closer to the brand.

When direct marketing principles are cleverly integrated across other (relevant) DM media the results can increase exponentially as the whole campaign becomes greater than the sum of the parts.  This is the hallmark of a truly integrated campaign.  So one of the key question for direct marketing communications as we look to 2010 and beyond is ‘how can marketers integrate direct marketing with other media so that the media chosen and the creative message is the most relevant it can be to the target audience and therefore will deliver the best possible results for clients?’.

Ask the DM Expert

 If you would like to ask, Peter about how DM is a vital part for campaign integration, e-mail your question to