There was a time not so long ago when direct marketing was the red-headed stepchild of the business world.
I remember just 15 or so years ago working for ad agencies who were just “discovering” direct marketing, calling it “interactive” marketing and lumping it in with Web site design, CD-ROMs, and other technology stuff. Direct response advertising was considered separate from all the “real” advertising, such as glitzy TV spots and splashy print ads.
Today, direct marketing is mainstream. People have finally realized the advantages of accountable advertising and the effectiveness of integrating direct marketing methods into the standard business model.
This is due in large part to the rapid growth of the Internet, which is well-suited to direct techniques. People have figured out how to both brand and sell on the Internet, and there is finally a realization that there doesn’t have to be a wall between these strategies. They can and should be integrated.
But what does the future hold? With all this change happening so rapidly, what will the marketing world look like 10 or 20 years from now? I have a few thoughts on that.
Technology will enable direct response in all media. When you think of direct marketing now, you think of direct mail, catalogs, and other “direct response” media. That’s because some media, such as billboards, don’t allow response. But as various technologies grow and merge, including wireless and the Internet, every imaginable medium will allow consumers to respond immediately and directly to any advertisement.
Let’s say you’re driving down the highway and you see a billboard announcing a concert of your favorite band. The call to action will give you a code which you can speak or type into your wireless device to purchase tickets on the spot. Maybe the billboard even broadcasts this ad to a receiver in your car, asking you if you want these tickets because you have identified this band as one of your interests in a “white list” you have created on your receiver.
The same idea could work with radio or TV. A song or movie that you like comes on and you’ll have the option to buy it with a single touch in much the same way you order movies now on cable.
See a car you like while you’re watching TV? Hit a button on the remote and get information sent directly to your computer, which is probably integrated with your TV with a printer build in because people will always like things printed. With everything connected and response enabled, the possibilities are endless.
Marketing will become more targeted. The same integrated, universal technology will let businesses deliver messages to a highly targeted group of people rather than broadcast messages at large. There will be no city or regional “buys” for media. You won’t have to drop mail to a ZIP code or run print ads in a generalized segment of a print run. You will be able to deliver any message to any individual.
To again use the example of the car ad, manufacturers won’t run TV spots as they do now, they will deliver their ad to a “list” of prospective buyers. The idea of broadcast media will probably disappear entirely.
And the same technology that allows this targeting will also allow almost total personalization. I won’t see the same ad that millions of other car buyers will see. I will see the ad created specifically for me, with product features I’m likely to want, an offer built for my needs, and contact information of a specific salesman at the closest dealer.
All of this will be delivered to me not when the car is introduced, but when the manufacturer determines I am most likely to want the car based on the age of my current car, financial information, recent purchases, gas prices (if it’s a gas powered car), and so on.
Companies will no longer be bound to particular media. Right now many organizations consider themselves to be Internet businesses, catalog companies, retailers, etc. The mode of product delivery, business location, or product type plays a big part in selecting media for advertising.
But the lines between direct mail, radio, TV, Internet, and other media will blur. Used to be that if you ran a store in Alaska you only sold to neighbor Alaskans. If you started a catalog, suddenly you became a catalog company that happened to have a store. If you found your items sold more profitably on the Web, you became a Web company.
In years to come, the blurring of media will also blur business models so that your market is not limited by the medium itself. If there’s a pizza shop in New York I like, I’ll be able to order a pie and have it delivered frozen overnight even if the shop isn’t specifically a mail order food business.
All of this is good and bad, but mostly good. The good is that “we” will have won. Direct marketing will become the primary selling method. What many of us in the industry have been saying for years, that direct is best, will be proven correct.
The bad is that “we” won’t be so special anymore. We won’t be the underdogs or the “smart” ones selling more efficiently than those “dumb” mass marketers. We’ll finally understand the meaning of “Be careful what you wish you. You might get it.”