Direct marketing, the oldest form of marketing, is the process of communicating directly with target customers to encourage response by telephone, mail, electronic means, or personal visit. Users of direct marketing include retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers, and service providers, and they use a variety of methods including direct mail, telemarketing, direct-response advertising, online computer shopping services, cable shopping networks, and infomercials. Traditionally not viewed as an element in the promotional mix, direct marketing represents one of the most profound changes in marketing and promotion in the last 25 years. Aspects of direct marketing, which includes direct response advertising and direct mail advertising as well as the various research and support activities necessary for their implementation, have been adopted by virtually all companies engaged in marketing products, services, ideas, or persons.
Direct marketing has become an important part of many marketing communication programs for three reasons. First, the number of two-income households has increased dramatically. About six in every ten women in the United States work outside the home. This has reduced the amount of time families have for shopping trips. Secondly, more shoppers than ever before rely on credit cards for payment of goods and services. These cashless transactions make products easier and faster to purchase. Finally, technological advances in telecommunications and computers allow consumers to make purchases from their homes via telephone, television, or computer with ease and safety. These three factors have dramatically altered the purchasing habits of American consumers and made direct marketing a growing field worldwide.
Direct marketing allows a company to target more precisely a segment of customers and prospects with a sales message tailored to their specific needs and characteristics. Unlike advertising and public relations, whose connections to actual sales are tenuous or nebulous at best, direct marketing offers accountability by providing tangible results. The economics of direct marketing have also improved over the years as more information is gathered about customers and prospects. By identifying those consumers they can serve more effectively and profitably, companies may be more efficient in their marketing efforts. Whereas network television in the past offered opportunities to reach huge groups of consumers at a low cost per thousand, direct marketing can reach individual consumers and develop a relationship with each of them.
Research indicates that brands with strong brand equity are more successful in direct marketing efforts than little-known brands. Direct marketing, then, works best when other marketing communication such as traditional media advertising supports the direct marketing effort.
Direct marketing has its drawbacks also. Just as consumers built resistance to the persuasive nature of advertising, so have they with direct marketing efforts. Direct marketers have responded by being less sales oriented and more relationship oriented. Also, just as consumers grew weary of advertising clutter, so have they with the direct marketing efforts. Consumers are bombarded with mail, infomercials, and telemarketing pitches daily. Some direct marketers have responded by regarding privacy as a customer service benefit. Direct marketers must also overcome consumer mistrust of direct marketing efforts due to incidents of illegal behavior by companies and individuals using direct marketing. The U.S. Postal Service, the Federal Trade Commission, and other federal and state agencies may prosecute criminal acts. The industry then risks legislation regulating the behavior of direct marketers if it is not successful in self-regulation. The Direct Marketing Association, the leading trade organization for direct marketing, works with companies and government agencies to initiate self-regulation. In March of 2003 the National Do Not Call Registry went into affect whereby consumers added their names to a list that telemarketers had to eliminate from their out-bound call database.
Database marketing is a form of direct marketing that attempts to gain and reinforce sales transactions while at the same time being customer driven. Successful database marketing continually updates lists of prospects and customers by identifying who they are, what they are like, and what they are purchasing now or may be purchasing in the future. By using database marketing, marketers can develop products and/or product packages to meet their customers' needs or develop creative and media strategies that match their tastes, values, and lifestyles. Like IMC, database marketing is viewed by many marketers as supplanting traditional marketing strategies and is a major component of most IMC programs.
At the core of database marketing is the idea that market segments are constantly shifting and changing. People who may be considered current customers, potential customers, and former customers and people who are likely never to be customers are constantly changing. By identifying these various segments and developing a working knowledge of their wants, needs, and characteristics, marketers can reduce the cost of reaching non-prospects and build customer loyalty. Perhaps the most important role of database marketing is its ability to retain customers. The cumulative profit for a five-year loyal customer is between seven and eight times the first-year profit.
Since database marketing is expensive to develop and complex to implement effectively, companies considering database marketing should consider three important questions. First, do relatively frequent purchasers or high dollar volume purchasers for the brand exist? Secondly, is the market diverse enough so that segmenting into subgroups would be beneficial? Finally, are there customers that represent opportunities for higher volume purchases?