Peter is founder and president of Cloud AdAgents. Email him here.
Back in the ’90s when I was starting my career, direct marketing was the hot marketing discipline. There was endless talk about the decline of brand advertising as marketers wised up to the miracles of measurable marketing, empowered by the nascent science of CRM. While the other graduates of my McGill marketing class were off shooting TV spots for soap, I was working on multiple regression models to sell insurance to Bay cardholders. It wasn’t sexy, but the future sure seemed bright for direct marketers back then.
But something happened to DM in Canada. The hoopla stopped. DM died.
And ten years on, finding ad agency talent in this country who know the basics of DM is next to impossible. It seems the discipline is simply not being taught anymore, even in the shops that were once the standard bearers for it.
Yet when I look at the state of DM in the UK and the US, I see a very different picture…it’s alive and thriving in this digital age. So what happened in Canada? I think there were two concurrent events that ultimately led to the death of direct in this country.
First, Canadian direct marketers killed direct marketing. In late 1998, the Canadian Direct Marketing Association voted to drop the word “direct” from its name. Over 90% of its members voted to do so. The official line was that it was necessary to reflect the changing and broadening mandate of the association. To me it seemed like an effort to get the cool kids from advertising agencies to come to our parties. Whatever the reason, a big and powerful organization that was once singularly focused on direct was no more.
Second, digital came to dominate marketing business at the end of the last century. Young marketers entering the ad business were drawn to it, for obvious reasons. But the people creating the space were not direct marketers, they were technicians and entrepreneurs. Direct marketing was seen by this new breed of online marketer as the oldest of the old school disciplines (i.e., direct mail): who in their right mind would choose that career path?
My Cloud AdAgents colleague Tamera Kremer rightly makes the point that some direct marketers found their skills were required in search engine marketing, especially once Google got traction in the late 90s. Alas, the SEM sector is small when compared to what DM used to be, and still quite underdeveloped in this country.
The fact was (and still is), direct and digital (including social) go hand in hand. Direct marketers with strong analytical skills are superbly equipped for a career in digital…and sorely needed today. Consider Facebook: advertising on the platform is direct marketing in its purest form, but few marketers know how the confluence of list, offer and creative testing is key to maximizing results on it.
The time has come for a new focus on direct marketing in this country.