Direct marketing has been the staple of small to mid-level businesses for decades. Although distinguishable from brand awareness strategies and other types of advertising that are employed by predominantly large companies, direct marketing has evolved over the years to maintain its importance in business-to-consumer and business-to-business communications; in fact, in today’s unpredictable economy, forms of direct marketing such as Database Marketing are arguably more important than ever before.

Over the past few years, the internet has altered traditional forms of direct marketing, which were previously confined to postal drops, promotional letters, catalogue distribution, e-mail campaigns and so on. Today, it is not always easy to differentiate between direct marketing and alternative advertising strategies because methodologies are becoming increasingly integrated as technological advances are made; however, it is reasonable to suggest that direct marketing in its traditional guise is in the process of being phased out or fundamentally altered by many larger companies.

A survey published in August 2010 by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and COLLOQUY, for instance, revealed that US companies whose primary objective was to maintain customer loyalty spent an average of $88,000 on social media marketing, compared to $53,000 for brand awareness and $30,000 for customer acquisition, which tends to rely on principles of direct marketing. In the UK, a similar story has emerged in the context of SEO and PPC spending, which can constitute either direct or indirect forms of marketing. According to Econsultancy’s Search Engine Marketing Benchmark Report 2010, 49 per cent of all UK companies are now investing at least ¬¨¬£50,000 per year on paid search engine marketing.

As the definition and role of direct marketing continue to evolve, companies seeking reliable and effective forms of advertising ought to consider partnering with direct marketing specialists, the most successful of which tend to comprise a creative team for producing high-quality logos, catalogues and mail pieces such as free trials in addition to a business intelligence group that has access to databases containing information on millions of people worldwide.

Small to mid-level companies that handle direct marketing in-house often fail for two principal reasons: time and resources are taken away from the company’s core business interests; and laws, such as those pertaining to data protection, are violated on occasions, which can result in substantial regulatory fines or worse. Specialist direct marketing firms understand how to sell a product or service in full compliance with the law whilst enabling client companies to concentrate on their primary commercial objectives.

The outsourcing of direct marketing is also important because, as mentioned above, advertising in today’s economy is no straightforward task. Direct marketing specialists operate at the cutting-edge of technology, which means that integrated marketing solutions can be employed to achieve the desired results. The challenging economic conditions have forced consumers to become more selective when it comes to choosing where and how they spend their money, so direct marketing campaigns must be applied creatively. Partnering with a direct marketing firm usually proves far less costly and measurably more successful than in-house alternatives.

The process of partnering with a direct marketing specialist usually starts with a discussion on how best to achieve specific objectives – this is often achieved through the completion of a questionnaire that aims to identify the target audience, price point and existing marketing channels used by a company. When a sufficient foundation has been established, the direct marketing firm will generate solutions that are designed to provide the highest possible return on investment (ROI).

Direct marketing specialists can be employed at any stage of the customer life cycle, but are especially useful for customer acquisition and retention. In a troubled economy, companies cannot rely on brand awareness and mass marketing to survive; indeed, one-on-one direct marketing, in either its traditional or integrated form, is essential for targeting specific consumer needs, providing tailor-made incentives and formulating the most cost-effective solutions for small to mid-level companies.