A Call to Reinvent the DMA: Why We Need a Name Change Now

'iDirect Marketing' Would Symbolize the Interactive, Informed and Immediate Way the Industry Operates Today

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Stan  <a href='https://adage.com/directory/rapp/104' class='directory_entry' title='AdAge Directory'>Rapp</a>
Stan Rapp
The online counter ticked off the days, hours, minutes and even seconds to the unveiling of the website: newdma.org. For days, I wondered if finally the direct marketing organization that I've been a member of for decades, whose conferences I've spoken at countless times, and which I've urged to reflect its new positioning with a rebranding, was about to finally get one. At 9 a.m. EST. last Monday, the countdown ended.

The 93-year-old trade organization delivered an anticlimax. The countdown ticker was gone, replaced with a landing page promising "Change Is Happening." So, as the saying goes, what else is new? The DMA transformation is missing its most vitally needed element -- a name change that reflects what marketers must grasp to survive and prosper at the dawn of the second decade of the 21st century.

The DMA, under the leadership of newly appointed CEO Lawrence Kimmel, is making massive strides toward making its offering relevant again. And I applaud Kimmel's efforts. But in his inspiring opening speech this week, he stopped short of going all the way. He failed to take the one step that would signal to the rest of the business world that a newly involved direct is the marketing of the future.

In the Oct. 4 Advertising Age story, "DMA Struggles to Reinvent Itself as Direct Evolves in Digital World," Michael Bush writes that the DMA is "smack dab in the hottest space in marketing -- one-to-one communication -- but has struggled to evolve into the new world of direct exemplified by the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare." As one agency executed quoted anonymously in the story said: "They should be the center of leading-edge technological advancement in direct. They could be the biggest show around."

The DMA falls short of fully proclaiming its place on center stage. As I walked the convention hall this week, what I saw most prominently were mailers, printers and data sources. Anyone entering the hall gets the initial impression that we are the same DMA we've always been, not the organization that Kimmel talks about. The reality of the DMA exhibit hall is best defined by what is not there: the pace-setting vendors that cutting-edge marketers turn out to see in record numbers at the Ad:Tech conferences.

Where were the exhibitors that can help you master all the wonders of those proliferating social channels? The few "online" vendors attending were relegated to the back corner of the exhibit hall. Granted, that's an improvement from the turn-of-the-century DMA conferences, when digital vendors were boxed off in a separate area.

But this is incremental change at best when incremental change simply isn't good enough. We must signal that something far more profound has happened to the direct-marketing discipline.

I call it iDirect marketing, the emergence of a new discipline formed at the confluence of digital technology and best practices in direct marketing. The new iDirect utilizes an abundance of digital tools to optimize engagement with your prospects or customers at a time and place of their own choosing. It is "direct thinking" with an internet rocket booster attached.

The "i" is symbolic of a great marketing turnaround, touching on every aspect of the new way of marketing: interactive, informed, insightful, immediate, involved, innovative, individualized, iterative, integrated, inspired and grounded in what the convergence of the internet and direct marketing now make possible.

Every marketer today -- not only those who sell without an intermediary -- is an iDirect marketer nurturing a direct relationship online with customers and prospects. They are empowered as never before to deliver relevant content and offers across all channels. They utilize awesome data-driven insights into a person's needs, lifestyle and behavior. And they often realize a surprisingly high ROI at amazingly low cost.

Most CMOs don't understand that when they begin to market directly on the web or with social media, they are practicing the new direct marketing. One reason is that the direct-marketing name carries so much negative baggage for those who got an MBA in the mass-marketing era. They still confuse direct marketing with its past direct-mail dependence.

It's going to take more than simply saying: "It's a new DMA." We must muster the courage to go beyond simply claiming we are "new and improved." It's time for an entirely new brand promise from the DMA -- one that equally reflects a proud DM heritage and everything the "i" signifies. It's time for the iDMA.

Stan Rapp, chairman of Engauge, is the co-founder of Rapp Collins (now Rapp), where he served as CEO for 23 years. He is editor of the book "Reinventing Interactive and Direct Marketing" and is a member of the DMA Hall of Fame.
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