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Direct marketing: definition, steps, and examples

Direct marketing offers a way to reach out to consumers who are more likely to take action. So, what is direct marketing, and how can you build it into your business plan? Find out in our step-by-step guide below.

What is direct marketing?

A direct marketing campaign reaches out to selected consumers via some form of communication, whether email or social media. The advertising should use a call to action (CTA) that inspires the customer to take specific, measurable action. Examples of CTAs might include making a purchase from the website, clicking on a link in the social media promotion, or signing up for the company’s newsletter.

While wider forms of advertising reach out to a broad audience through a third-party medium, direct marketing relies on personal communication. For example, an advert on TV would not qualify as direct marketing, but a targeted message on social media would.

Direct marketing examples

Direct marketing can take on many forms, including:

  • Catalogues

  • Brochures

  • Flyers

  • Emails

  • SMS Messages

  • Targeted social media ads

No matter the medium, the goal is to inspire the recipient to take a specific action. Here are a couple of direct marketing examples to consider:

  1. Subscribers to a gardening magazine might be shown Facebook advertisements for a gardening supply store, with a link embedded that clicks through to the website.

  2. A new window cleaning service might distribute flyers through the letterboxes of residents living within a five-mile circle. The flyers contain a phone number to ring for service.

  3. Members of a professional association for freelance journalists might receive a targeted email promotion offering discounts on self-employed tax preparation.

What these examples all have in common is that they are targeted to a specific demographic that is most likely to need the service or product. They also include a call to action inviting response, whether it’s via an embedded link, phone number, or email address.

Direct marketing, step by step

Some businesses make the mistake of sending out direct marketing materials to an audience that’s unlikely to use their services. In these cases, messages are often caught up in junk mail or spam filters. Here’s a step-by-step guide to making your direct marketing efforts more effective.

Step 1: Create a contact list.

You need to compile a list of contacts that are most likely to need your services. You can generate leads with an inbound marketing campaign, pay for email lists in your sector, or use existing clients. It’s helpful to perform a customer segmentation analysis to determine which users would be most interested in specific products.

Step 2: Choose the form of communication.

If your business sells art supplies, you might want to mail out catalogues featuring your new products. If you sell women’s clothing, targeted emails should highlight the latest promotions with a discount for subscribers. Craft your words carefully in any case with a clear call to action.

Step 3:  Use a means of customer identification.

You need to be able to measure the response to your direct marketing campaign. For example, you could embed a pixel code inside the email. This will identify the users that were interested enough to visit your website.

Step 4: Measure your customer responses.

Once you’ve perfected your messaging and sent it out to consumers, it’s time to measure the response. Make sure you give the campaign time to work. While some consumers are constantly online, others log in less frequently. After a set period, count the clicks, views, or conversions to determine how effective your campaign has been. You can then use these measurable results as benchmark KPIs for your next campaign.

Advantages of direct marketing

There are many distinct advantages of direct marketing, such as:

  • It is targeted to consumers who are more likely to make a purchase.

  • It is far more cost-effective than traditional forms of advertising.

  • You can personalize your messaging, forging a direct connection with your audience.

  • You can strengthen your bond with existing customers by offering loyalty-related promotions.

  • It offers a higher return on investment, with a better likelihood of making a sale.

  • It offers measurable results.

For all of these reasons, it remains one of the most popular options in a company’s marketing toolkit.

Disadvantages of direct marketing

By contrast, there are few disadvantages of direct marketing. You do run the risk of missing out on consumers who may have not yet shown any demonstrable interest in your products. However, in terms of return on investment and lead generation, direct marketing is hard to beat. 

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