Changing Roles Within Direct Marketing

There are currently two big shifts going on in the direct marketing world that affect email marketers: the decline of direct mail and the rise of social media.

The Decline of Direct Mail

The current recession has accelerated the shift to digital media and marketing. Recently, Borrell Associates predicted that advertising revenue from direct mail is expected to plunge 39% by 2013. Email was singled out as the key beneficiary of direct mail's decline.

We've seen this shift already playing out among some of our clients. Catalog and direct mail departments are getting smaller, while email marketing teams are growing. In some cases, direct mail folks are being moved over to the email marketing side. In at least one case I've heard, catalog folks were shockingly being put in charge of the email team because of their seniority at the company, which strikes me as rewarding failure.

While there are certainly macro forces at work behind direct mail's decline and is value in retaining workers with long-term experience with your brand, it's vital to recognize that direct mail experts lack many skills necessary to be successful at email marketing.

1. Designing an email involves knowing how inbox providers render CSS and HTML, dealing with situations where images aren't enabled, and designing for preview panes and mobile devices.

2. Running an email program involves much more segmentation. "Batch and blast" is a recipe for subscriber revolt and delivery disaster.

3. Email subscribers can more easily punish marketers that abuse their time with irrelevant messages by hitting the "report spam" button. Annoy enough subscribers and you will be blocked by ISPs and have difficulties delivering your messages to even those subscribers who want them.

4. The success of a direct mail campaign is determined by a very different set of metrics than that used to measure the success of an email campaign.

A direct mail approach to email marketing can ruin your program, so make sure that any transfers are properly educated and play a secondary role until they're fully up to speed. Conferences, webinars, vendor education programs, industry publications and blogs play a critical role in the continuing education of email marketers. Make sure that even your seasoned email experts are given the time and budget to keep up to date with the ever-changing email landscape.

The Rise of Social Media

I was initially dismayed by StrongMail's recent  survey showing that 36% of survey respondents stated that the direct marketing department owns social media. Twenty-nine percent said the responsibility is owned by multiple departments, 9% said social media is owned by the public relations department, and only 5% have a dedicated social media department.

I was concerned because direct marketing (which includes email marketing) excels at promotional marketing -- precisely the messaging that people don't want on social networks, according to ExactTarget's  Channel Preference Survey. If marketers use social media solely to push promotions, then they'll be squandering the strength of that channel, which is community engagement.

However, after thinking about this a bit more, I'm seeing this as a positive development. The retailers that I track have definitely been taking a broader approach to their messaging, promoting educational content, how-to videos, social networks and other content, in addition to traditional sales and product promotions. In that light, having email marketers have a hand in controlling social media makes more sense.

That said, as companies get more experience with social media, the channel becomes more mature and marketing budgets rebound during the recovery, I wouldn't be surprised to see more companies taking a cross-departmental approach with a small dedicated social media department taking the lead. Direct marketing's hold on social media will likely be temporary.



7 comments about "Changing Roles Within Direct Marketing".
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  1. John Ribbler from Media Pro, Inc., June 23, 2009 at 11:07 a.m.

    Your article addresses important issues about the advent of new media and shifting of resources and ownership.

    Most importantly, companies should determine how best to change their marketing mix using a plan that takes into account the nuances of their industries, historical data quality, the nature of their message itself, and the nature of their audience. In many cases, decisions are being made based on cost alone.

    Regarding ownership, the ownership of new media promises to be guerrilla warfare in lots of organizations. I'd recommend using the "era of change" opportunity to reduce silos, rather than creating new ones.

  2. Morgan Stewart from Trendline Interactive, June 23, 2009 at 12:48 p.m.

    Chad, great article. I agree with your assessment of the macro changes happening in direct marketing.

    However, like John, I don't think creating social media departments is the answer. I believe the era of organizing around communication channels has got to be replaced by a new era where we organize around messaging (PR, branding, promotions, customer service, etc)--to me, this seems like the only way to scale given the rapid proliferation of new channels.

  3. Barbara Bates from Eastwick Communications, June 23, 2009 at 4:03 p.m.

    Morgan...couldn't agree with you more. That's why we're called Eastwick Communications and not Eastwick PR. Helping our clients create compelling stories is one of the most important things we do. Mapping the channels to the audience whether is blogs, user forums, business press or tradeshows is equally important but changing all the time...we need to understand the dynamics of all of them...not jsut one or two.

  4. Chad White from Litmus, June 23, 2009 at 6:19 p.m.

    As usual, my opinions are colored by my focus on B2C. In B2B, direct marketers may be in a better position to control social media. But in B2C, I think that's less clear.

    To John and Morgan's points, I totally agree that we don't need more silos. More coordination between channels is definitely needed. That said, you still need channel experts.

  5. John Hendricks from BoomBox, Inc., June 24, 2009 at 6:17 a.m.

    The article brings up some good points, but I've seen email picked up by different disciplines such as call center, website and product teams -- most of which have been unmitigated disasters. By contrast, merging into a direct mail team has considerable wisdom to it because the underlying theory still holds up: driving response in a statistically significant way, understanding recency and frequency. With our help, we've been able to bring these organizations into the 21st century. They are usually able to do great things with the additional data that is available (sent, received, opens, clicks, pass-alongs, conversions, opt-outs). The hard part is indeed educating them about the need to use preferences and behavioral data to drive relevant, timely communications. The best cases we've seen come out with fewer silos that have more influence within the organization, people who live and breathe direct response and the ability to do multi-channel communications.

  6. Kristen Sullivan from Dukky, June 25, 2009 at 12:29 p.m.

    Hi Chad,

    Nice job pulling together the major trends that are underway and changing the direct mail space.

    At Dukky, we're seeing new direct marketing technologies that seamlessly integrate direct mail, email, mobile and social media in order to boost engagement, brand connection, and ultimately sales. It's going to be increasingly important for marketing and branding professionals to be fluent in all of these channels too - less they be replaced by the technologies that "get it."


  7. Dawn Gallagher from The Innovation Cafe, June 26, 2009 at 2:03 p.m.

    I've been involved in digital marketing since 1996 and remember our transition from 100% DM to a mix with email quite well. The foundation of the two are essentially the same - build a database of comprehensive customer profiles, segment according to demos/psychos/product usage/preferences/etc., create targeted offers, personalize mailers for 1:1 communication, track response behavior and note within individual customer profiles, analyze metrics, and isolate learning. This was SOP in the late 80's. You can imagine how psyched we were by the additional depth and breadth of customer knowledge we could collect, the ease of testing and creating online campaigns, the ability to see a majority of results within a 72-hour period ... and obviously the reduction in cost and trees. I'm not sure the transition from pure DM to email marketing is as difficult as many perceive.

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