A Buyers Guide to Direct Marketing Services

There is a tremendous growth and change occurring in the sphere of business marketing across the world today. This is largely due to the unprecedented pace of change in technology, entrepreneurial tactics and an open attitude towards new theories and concepts in marketing itself.

Direct Marketing is a subsection of marketing that focuses on planned recording, analysis and tracking of individual customers’ responses and transactions for the purpose of developing and prolonging mutually profitable customer relationships. Direct marketing can be aimed either at the individual consumer or on a business-to-business (B2B) level. This form of marketing attempts to send messages directly to the intended client by means of addressable media such as mail and email. In this way direct marketing differs from regular advertising in that it does not place its messages in the public market such as radio, billboards and magazines etc.

A distinction has to be drawn between direct marketing and what is known as junk mail or spam. Whilst direct marketing is very often criticised for generating unwanted solicitations, spam and bulk mail drops are not true forms of direct marketing as recipients are not identified as prospects by any form of selective criteria. Direct marketing on the other hand is a form of advertising based on a very selective process by which potential clients are screened according to certain levels of eligibility in accordance with the product being promoted. Direct marketing makes use of addressable as well as non-addressable media. Addressable media entails such forms as email, telemarketing and short message service (SMS) on mobile phones, although face-to-face contact is not considered a form of addressable media. Non-addressable media takes the form of mail outs and flyers, where no immediate user input is required. The important thing is that both these forms of direct marketing seek a response, and it is this which the marketer bases their future actions, or contact strategy on.

Some of the advantages of direct marketing are listed below:

Specific targeting

Clearly, the most important aspect of direct mail is that it can be targeted ‘exactly’ at the specific, individual, customer.

Personalization

Direct mail can address the customer personally. If the full benefits of precision marketing are exploited, it can be directly tailored to his or her needs (interactively based upon prior experience, as recorded on the database).

Optimization

Because of its direct response nature, the marketing campaign can be tested and varied to obtain the optimal results.

Accumulation

Responses can be added to the database, allowing future mailings to be even better targeted.

Flexibility

A direct mail campaign can be mounted quickly on a wide variety of topics within an overall promotional campaign.

When searching for potential services to assist you in your campaign of direct marketing, there are various aspects which need to be taken into consideration in order to gain the most out of your promotion.

At the core of any direct marketing campaign is the customer database. Most direct marketing services will offer recourse to their databases. For this reason it is necessary to choose the marketing service that will be able most accurately cater to your specific needs. Different service providers specialise in different market areas, for instance consumer marketing, or B2B marketing, as well as group variables, such as income, age, and lifestyle. The solution to this target audience will most likely come from your own database of customers or prospects. On the other hand, being selective by choosing only those who will be susceptible to the mailing saves on cost and also protects the investment in the database, by not exposing recipients to volumes of unwanted and irrelevant mail.

The most important question to ask when investing in an external list is how accurate it actually is. The source of many lists may be suspect as they are frequently derived from subscribers to magazines or respondents to free offers. This audience may not be the ideal prospects to your campaign, but then again this may be the only way in which you can reach your target market. Lists may also be out of date, for instance 12 per cent of the UK population changes address every year, which means they may need ‘cleaning’ (for example, to remove duplicate entries or to update contacts within organisations). Usually the only adequate way of finding out how useful a list really is, is to run a test mailing, even though it might represent an investment of time and money.

As mentioned above, the most productive mailing list is one that you have compiled yourself. Unfortunately, these lists are often the most neglected. For most direct marketing companies, such lists are their single most precious asset. Even in organisations with more general fields of operation, the data obtained as a result of those operations (enquiries, face-to-face selling, exhibitions, direct mail, etc.) should all be regarded as highly valuable. Data should be consolidated and protected so that they are usable, and useful, as a direct input to all marketing activities – especially for precision marketing.

When approaching prospective direct marketing companies, it is good to know what kind of products and services to expect, and how these can help you in your campaign. Generally speaking, marketing companies should be able to offer access to a specified name database, made up of prospective clients as set out by your needs. You have to consider that different companies have varying databases that cater for differing needs. It is thus up to you to find the one most suited to your requirements. Furthermore, direct marketing companies should offer services such as:

– Databases specified to cover various forms of media, i.e. mailing data, telemarketing and email data.

– Segmentation of data into areas such as job title, geographical location and industry classification.

– Data cleansing and verification services

– Data enhancement as well as analytic and strategic consulting.

Some emerging channels which hold interesting possibilities in the future include:

Digital Cable:

Cable television has never enabled highly targeted direct marketing to become successful. Digital cable is seen as the solution that will make the delivery of personalised marketing content via television possible.

Wireless:

To date, the majority of wireless marketing was constrained to text based SMS services, but with the advent of 3G, the promise of delivering richer content has gained more interest from marketers.

Internet:

Banner advertisements are often considered indirect advertising, but in many cases, companies like Google and Yahoo serve advertisements on their websites for their own purposes.

Political campaigns:

Recently, political campaigns have begun to appropriate the methods of direct marketers (or to employ direct marketing companies) to raise money and create activism.

Once you have acquired all the relevant data regarding your target audience, factors such as the channels you choose and the timing of the delivery (e.g. time of year or even day of the week) can play a major role in the effectiveness of your campaign. The correct marketing service will be well equipped to assist you through all these areas.