Notice: Direct Marketing is a Strategy, Not a Tactic

Misunderstanding the role of direct marketing in the marketing mix severely limits it’s potential as a key part of most any company’s marketing portfolio.

If you are a DM professional, then you see the broad scope and long-term impact of direct marketing as a strategy. If you are a positioning strategist or a branding practitioner, then you might view direct marketing as a tactic and “below-the-line” tactic. Which is accurate?

Let’s start at the beginning by defining the role of marketing and reason together about how marketing strategies evolve.

In my own vernacular, marketing consists of activities that create products or services that people are willing to buy. In addition, marketing includes broad-based strategies for selling those same products for long-term profitability.

As with any business venture, marketing plans are developed based primarily on quantifiable profit objectives. These objectives answer WHAT we want as a result of our marketing strategies.

The strategies deal with HOW the marketers intend to accomplish the stated objective. And finally, the tactics spell out the DETAIL of how the strategies are implemented.

As outlined in the classic definitions of the terms, tactics tend to be low-level breakdowns revolving around implementation for the short term.

Definition of the word STRATEGY:
A carefully devised plan of action to achieve a goal, or the art of developing or carrying out such a plan
Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation.

Definition of the word TACTIC:
A method used or a course of action followed in order to achieve an immediate or short-term aim
Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation.


For example, the media plan includes target market analyses, media selections based on audience reach and frequency and other methods that are tactical in nature. But when the media plan is driven by a direct marketing strategy, then the media plan evaluation and selection tactics take a totally different direction.

For example, instead of looking primarily for “reach and frequency” called for by the image advertising strategy, the direct marketing media plan is driven by cost per lead or cost per sale financials. This direct marketing media plan depends upon constant tracking that expands, reduces or cuts broadcast buys, lists selections and other media decisions based on test results. The general advertising strategy totally and properly ignores this selection and evaluation process for media buys.

The simplified flow chart below illustrates my view of the interrelationships between the objective, the strategies and the tactics selected to achieve the objectives.



When treated with the respect it deserves, the direct marketing strategy drives the creative development, offer development, pricing, the tracking system, the dependence upon the house file, the media plan and other marketing functions in ways that the general advertising or branding strategy does not even consider. In some cases, it may even subordinate image advertising depending upon the situation.

Posted on October 22, 2007 and filed under Direct Marketing Strategy.