The Future of Marketing Is Direct

crystal ball

About a century ago merchant John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Since that time everything—and nothing—in marketing has changed.

Today, marketers are awash in more customer data than they ever dreamed they’d have access to. They have technologies at their fingertips that allow them to attract, convert, engage, and retain customers more effectively and efficiently than ever before—often because many of those technologies also allow marketers to collect and use data to gain an understanding of individual customers that’s as good as one a customer may have with a favorite local merchant, but at scale. Marketers also have social and mobile tools that allow them to interact with customers and prospects to a degree unavailable in the past, except perhaps to mom-and-pop business owners.

These sweeping changes have forever altered marketing. Mass advertising is slowly becoming a distant memory as an ever-growing number of marketers adopt more personalized and targeted approaches to customer communications and interactions. But slowly is the key word here, because the fact remains that as much as marketing has changed, it has also stayed the same.

Marketers are still vexed by attribution, for example. Many are unsure which or how much of their marketing dollars are wasted on campaigns that don’t resonate with customers and prospects—or would resonate with more personalization or if delivered via a different mix of channels and at different times. Direct marketers have long been proponents of testing to resolve the attribution conundrum; despite this—and the many trackable interactions and channels that marketers can now tap into—today’s convoluted path-to-purchase can stymie even the most adept direct marketers. And despite the benefits of testing, some marketers still shun it. So, the measurement problem Wanamaker decried persists.

Another way marketing hasn’t changed: Traditional channels hang on. The reason is, simply, because they work. Marketers still invest in such traditions as Super Bowl ads and direct mail—not just for the branding and reach, but also for the relationship-building and revenue-driving opportunities those channels present.

But, even in areas where marketing seems to be the same as it ever was, there’s been an evolution. And that’s where the excitement and possibilities need more attention, because those areas are where marketing is about performance, not about getting drawn in to shiny objects. Savvy marketers are blending traditional and digital channels in ways that pack significantly more punch than marketing in silos.

There are plenty of marketers who would like to take a more omnichannel approach, but they’re mired in an older, more siloed approach to marketing, often because their team and processes are designed around a more traditional marketing approach. Ending fiefdoms, bridging silos, and facilitating the collaboration needed to shift to a more omnichannel approach takes tremendous will—as well as C-level buy-in and significant staffing, process, and technology changes.

Over the next year the marketing industry—and direct marketing in particular—will continue, on one hand, to change at breakneck speed as consumer behaviors and marketing and consumer technologies launch and evolve; and on the other hand, to plod along, as marketers work through the challenges they face in such areas as attribution, organizational change, and optimizing the channel mix.

DMN will take this arduous journey with these tireless direct marketers, helping to smooth their trip by providing insightful coverage they can act on, now. The editorial team is constantly on the phone and in the field, talking to marketers and vendors to get firsthand views into best practices and tech advances, attending conferences to learn about the strategies and trends that are key topics of conversation, and using social to take the pulse of relevant consumer trends. With all that knowledge we then cut through the noise, acronyms, and marketing-speak to deliver content that helps marketers ride the waves of change while retaining valuable traditions and surmounting challenges.

Ultimately, our mission at DMN is to help direct marketers “outmarket” the competition by being direct. That is, using data to gain a unique understanding of customers that will allow marketers to drive evangelism, purchasing, and loyalty—to predict their profitable future by using data to define it. And, to once and for all solve Wanamaker’s conundrum by knowing, in no uncertain terms, what influence their marketing has on customers’ actions.

Originally published on’s “Company News” page: