Direct Marketing By Any Other Name

Marketers, so clever in their ad copy, often fall back on clichés when thinking about what they do. Here’s one that was red-hot a year or two ago, but may have faded a bit since then: Data-driven marketing.

The group formerly known as the Direct Marketing Association rebranded itself as the Data & Marketing Association prior to its merging with ANA. Now it’s stuck with the name, and that may not be wise for a group seen by privacy advocates as a home to data brokers, spam artists and junk mailers. 

In general, there are two broad types of data.

The traditional kind is available in rented mailing lists, co-ops and databases derived from public records and other sources. If a consumer makes a purchase or joins your loyalty program, you can match that name and email address against a gargantuan data repository to gain a full picture of the customer.

The next step is to create a profile and find lookalikes on your own or outside email lists.



That’s the foundation of traditional direct marketing, and it has worked well for a century. The people on customer email lists are a big part of it, but anonymous web site browsers are an even larger part.

Case in point: If someone does a Google search for Irish sweaters and ends up on your site, they’re showing intent to buy, and that’s as hot a lead as you can get. Thanks to cookies, you can see where the person has been and what their interests and demographics are and serve a relevant message in real-time. You can also buy display ads based on this online behavior.  

How does this differ from old-time direct marketing?

Unless they buy something or register on your site, you’ll never know who these consumers are – there are no addressable names or personally identifiable information. And there better not be: Regulators are on the alert for any crossing of that line. But that’s not a handicap, and never has been.

Mass media buys have always been based on anonymous data sets, like audience size and demographics. And, as privacy expert Marty Abrams has observed, the real you and the shadow you are easily brought together.

The two types of data intersect when the following elements are in play.


Advanced analytics can derive insights that ring true across both types of data, and that capability will only improve. Few may be doing it, but you can determine whether an anonymous browser is a prospect for your loyalty program — are they shopping for price? Then serve an ad inviting them to join. Surely, you can infer data points like age, gender and preference.


This is less about engagement than action. The minute the consumer signs up for your newsletter or identifies themselves in some other way, that’s when the two forms of data come together  That person is now your prospect or customer, and you can market to them and even append geo-demographic data, based on the name and address (postal or email).

Just make sure you observe the niceties of privacy, as it is currently seen in the U.S., by letting them opt out.


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