The Evolution of Direct Marketing: Then and Now

![Kristin Hambelton]( “Kristin Hambelton”)[Posted by Kristin Hambelton, Vice President Marketing, Neolane, Inc.]

Direct marketing has undergone a major revolution in recent years as the channels and tactics used to successfully market to customers have changed significantly. More importantly, they will likely continue to evolve into the near and distant future.

In this post, we’ll identify traditional and emerging direct marketing channels, and discuss similarities and differences between marketing strategies then and now.

Traditional Direct Marketing Channels

Experienced direct marketers remember the heyday of direct mail campaigns, print newsletters, and catalogs, sent primarily in bulk to large segments or audiences. Outbound telemarketing is another good example of a traditional direct marketing channel. Volumes on the channels have declined over the years, primarily due to their higher cost, longer campaign cycles, and less precise measurement compared to digital channels. However, it should be noted that usage has not died out completely, as in many cases traditional direct marketing channels perform very well.

Emerging Direct Marketing Channels of the Present

As the digital realm continues to expand, direct marketing’s evolution has led to greater adoption of digital marketing channels. Some of the most commonly used tactics today include email, mobile (SMS or push notifications), and social media marketing. These digital properties allow marketers to engage perpetually-connected consumers, and offer personalized messages based on rich behavioral data and 360-degree customer profiles.

How the Present Has Met with the Past

At its core, direct marketing has not changed. The end goal is still to effectively market directly to addressable consumers by creating targeted groups based on socio-demographic, transactional, and behavioral information. Rather than a total revamping of the direct marketing strategy, many of the core strategies have simply shifted seamlessly online, with many benefits in the hands of marketers.

With the emergence of digital channels, marketers and customers alike look to send and receive messages with immediacy. In the case of traditional offline channels, the campaign planning and execution process could often take weeks or even months. Moreover, specific offers were assigned to specific customer segments or groups of individuals. However, with the rise of digital channels, execution timeframes and segments have shrunk to virtually zero, giving way to real-time marketing.

For marketers to effectively reach prospects and customers, data streams need to be in real time to always have the most up-to-date customer profile; decisioning also needs to be real time to make split-second recommendations around the best message or offer for each individual. This enables marketers to move from a siloed, mass marketing approach to delivering truly cross-channel and 1:1 customer experiences.

Direct marketing has experienced fundamental changes as new technologies have emerged, presenting marketers with new challenges and opportunities. The building blocks for successful direct marketing efforts have remained consistent, but the timeframe for message delivery has essentially shifted to real time, leading us to believe adoption of real-time interaction management solutions will accelerate in the coming years.