July 16, 2015: Marketers today use many forms of advertising to reach prospects. From billboards to television and radio placements, the list is essentially endless. However, as popular and effective as these methods are,  they do not provide a specific call-to-action to a specific demographic group.

For example, when you are driving and you pass under a bridge with a billboard hanging from it, you most likely will see a phone number to call to buy the product advertised on the sign. However, this billboard does not have a target audience defined beyond “driver or passenger in a car on highway X.” It is simply there to catch the attention of whoever happens to pass by, regardless of who that person might be. No granular research was conducted to determine what types of consumers would benefit the most from seeing the billboard, and, aside from the phone number, no real way to accurately measure its success.

This is not the case with direct marketing. When advertisers choose to market directly, they do so only after careful preparation and planning. In most cases, they have a very specific demographic they would like their ad to influence, and a call-to action designed to motivate that demographic — and only that demographic — to take the bait. This specific call to action is what makes direct marketing campaigns easy to measure. From clothing retailers to technology companies, this kind of direct marketing tactic is popular for almost any type of business for which direct sales (not just creating awareness or other branding objective) is important. Even non-profit organizations can take advantage of the benefits that come from using direct marketing. The only challenge lies with doing it correctly.

Creating a Direct Marketing Campaign

Direct marketing requires more thought and planning than billboard-style advertising, and the multiple acronyms (CPO, CPA, CPR, DMA, etc) associated with it can make it sound complex, but if you take the time to break it down piece by piece, it’s not that complicated.

Gather the data
As with any advertising campaign, creating a direct marketing campaign begins with gathering data. Through research, marketers attempt to figure out exactly which types of customers are most likely to purchase their product or service. Once that is done, a list of all potential prospects can be created. This list is among the most important aspects of direct marketing; marketers with multiple products may benefit from creating multiple lists associated with each product.

Tailor your message
After a list (or lists) has been developed, the next step is making sure that the piece being sent out is tailored to the needs and interests of everyone on that list.  The good news is that because direct marketing typically lumps prospects together into granular segments,  marketers do not really have to concern themselves with personalization beyond this level. While some personalizing may be good, more attention can be focused on creating a (or package) most likely to attract interest from the segment as a “whole,” rather than rather than customizing a piece to include specific information pertaining to each individual.

Choose your channel
The last step in the campaign creation process is choosing a communication channel. This choice will probably vary depending on the target group, and different  types of establishments will likely have different preferences when it comes to selecting the appropriate one. For example, a restaurant might think of delivering leaflets or flyers door-to-door. Doing this would both reduce mailing expenses while helping to reach consumers residing locally. However, other businesses might look to email. Like door-to-door delivery, this is also a very inexpensive form of communication and has the added benefit of allowing the business to get its message out at any time of the day or night.

Evaluate and refine
As mentioned earlier, what separates direct marketing from traditional advertising is the idea that a very specific demographic is targeted using a very specific call-to-action. But in order for a direct marketing campaign to be successful, it must be closely monitored and every response must be tracked. This is to determine the effectiveness of the campaign and evaluate whether a change in communication is necessary. But data analysis isn’t just crucial when it comes to altering a campaign that is currently running. Data from one campaign can often be coupled with data from other campaigns in order to construct a better and more complete image of the target market. This image can then be used to make further adjustments in order to prepare future campaign launches (if, that is a member of the executive team feels that something needs to be changed).

Take it step by step

Direct marketing might be different than other traditional forms of advertising, but that does not make it any less effective. In many instances, it has actually proven to be more beneficial, as more research is conducted and target demographics are more carefully analyzed. However, should a business choose to run a direct marketing campaign, it is crucial that it does so correctly. It is always the weakest link (in terms of message/creative, channel, or segment definition) that defines the success or failure of any given campaign, and a poorly constructed and executed campaign will not only waste valuable company resources, but will result in a low rate of return. Such a campaign could even be annoying to prospects.

In the end, it’s a simple idea that can be boiled down to a simple set of steps:

  1. Define your audience carefully, using the best data you have access to.
  2. Choose your channel to match the media consumption habits and proclivities of your target audience.
  3. Always make sure that your customers are receiving something that is going to interest them. Make the information you provide useful and relevant.
  4. Do not rush things. Once a mailing is in production, costs associated with changing any of its elements can be cost-prohibitive. The more time you take when developing a strategy and creating the components required to execute it, the more successful you will be, making the reward that much greater.

If you follow these steps, you will not only be on your way to creating a direct marketing campaign that works, but have within your power the chance to elevate your business to new heights.