What is direct marketing - marketing toolkit 101


Digital only marketers often ask “What is direct marketing?”

Direct Marketing defined in The Marketer’s Toolkit 101, our series on the fundamentals of direct mail, marketing automation, omni channel, and more.


Direct Marketing is the process of targeting prospects and customers with specific and targeted communication and messages.  Oftentimes Direct Marketing is associated with physical direct mail but the reality in today’s data driven world is that direct marketing can be implemented across many channels including email, social, in-store and advertising, to name a few.

When done well, Direct Marketing gathers relevant customer data to improve offers, calls to action, and messaging. Direct Marketing efforts are usually measured against metrics such as customer engagement and loyalty, as well as marketing and sales performance.


Any marketing campaign provides an opportunity to tell a story and develop company pipeline. Direct Marketing aims to generate pipeline more effectively and more efficiently than other areas of the marketing mix. As more companies experiment with their marketing mix and follow a build, measure, learn philosophy, they start to run campaigns where return on investment is easier to track. Gone are the days where world famous marketers say they know 50% of their marketing budget provides a return, they just don’t know what 50%!

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The need for direct marketing has increased with the abundance of today’s marketing channels. In the marketer’s dilemma the author quotes “Today’s marketer has more options to reach her target audience than ever before. Yet it has never been more difficult to earn the attention and engagement of that user.” One of the biggest problems Direct Marketing attempts to address is the fact that there’s a copycat problem in marketing today. With the speed of information sharing, competitive advantages are quickly nullified and every sales and marketing organization ends up running a variation of the same playbook.


What differentiates direct marketing from direct mail is that direct mail is a campaign run within a broader direct marketing strategy. As mentioned earlier many different campaigns and tactics including targeted email and social can also be classified as being campaigns within a larger direct marketing strategy.

Direct Marketing may contain tactics and campaigns to communicate information about a product or service such as:

  • Direct mail
  • Postcards
  • Boxes
  • Personalized ads on TV (personalized based on the cable company knowing who you are and what you like)
  • Mailers
  • Flyers
  • Catalogs
  • Automated physical mail
  • Triggered and tracked terrestrial messaging

Historically, direct marketing communications were hard to track. However, the tracking issues are going away with unique vanity phone numbers and personalized URLs appearing in direct marketing so that the sender knows exactly who, how and when a prospect interacts with their message.

Calls to action are now simple to follow and are made even easier by technology such as QR codes. Companies are able to measure the effectiveness and improve their direct-marketing campaigns by tracking responses and integrating this data with the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Marketing Automation (e.g. HubSpot, Marketo) systems. Like all other forms of marketing direct marketing is more effective when companies use a high quality targeted lists of segmented prospects.


There’s no denying that high quality digital content will always be very important but there is a shift taking place because it’s harder and harder to stand out in a crowded inbox. What’s old becomes new again and it is clear that the marketing playbook needs to be freshened up.

The country’s major postal carriers report that while direct marketing had been dropping in volume for years there is a lot of evidence that spend is increasing and volumes are starting on an upward trajectory.

Marketers are now thinking about better targeting and less “junk mail”, resulting in better physical mail and direct marketing experiences than in the past. The physical mailbox is wide open! With only half of B2B marketers using direct mail and the CMO council reporting that 79% of people act on direct marketing, an opportunity exists for a savvy marketer to garner a customer’s attention.


Remember the 40/40/20 Rule. 40% of a mailer’s success will come from the list (targeting the right prospects at the right time); 40% from the offer (compelling and relevant offers are the best); and 20% from the creative (the copy and artwork must be attention-getting and motivating).

Because direct marketing can be tactile, it’s harder to ignore, experiment with a variety of sizes and formats that can be used to attract attention. Don’t forget there’s 2 sides to a postcard and envelope. Direct mail offers a front and a back in which to deliver your marketing message.


It’s marketing that every organization should be using. With new tools and technology, direct marketing can be easily integrated into your overall marketing tech stack. When marketers need to quickly generate leads, it is a discipline that delivers over and over again.

Get The Report: How direct marketers achieve 600% better returns!