Direct must earn consumer respect

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Direct marketing has earned the respect of the marketer. Now, it has to earn the respect of the consumer.

Practitioners of the discipline deserve the increasing interest and budgets that chief marketing officers are according them, and the increasing penetration of broadband in U.S. homes, coupled with the ever-growing database body of consumer information, will ensure its continued value.

But direct marketers must take care not to succumb to the same complacency that has left some traditional advertising agencies floundering for ideas in the consumer-controlled media environment of the Twenty First Century. They must rise to the challenge laid down by the 62 million people who added their names to the Federal Trade Commission do-not-call list.

Those who signed up were not just rejecting telemarketing, they were rejecting invasive marketing, and the federal government showed strong backing for the principle that consumers be allowed to block whatever commercial speech they did not want to hear when they are in their own homes. (An easily scored point in any political popularity contest.)

The challenge for direct marketers, if they are to get respect for more than just the measurability of their programs, will be to earn their invitations into mailboxes, inboxes and point-of-sale environments by raising the creative bar and proving that direct can form an emotional connection with the consumer.

This will mean meeting some basic standards that are still too often unmet: making direct-mail pieces look as good as high-quality print advertising; ensuring it's properly integrated with brand advertising and matched properly to the brand's attributes.

Even more challenging, it will require the training and hiring of creatives who can fully use databases and embed, in direct communications, targeted content consumers can't do without. This is the obstacle that stands between direct and further success.

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