The Chasm between Online and Direct Marketing

I recently sent out a survey to my fellow direct and online marketing contacts with this question.

What specifically do traditional direct marketers not know about online marketing that makes them ineffective in this channel?

When looking for direct marketers who can run an online channel as  part of the mix, what specific things do skilled, traditional direct marketers not know about online marketing that would make them ineffective in this channel?

At first glance, there does not appear to be a clear line that separates traditional direct marketers from online marketers, only perceived differences. But how do direct marketers and online marketing professional view their skill set? Is it different, or are there more similarities than differences?

I think direct marketers consider the two disciplines synonymous seeing online as yet another medium like DRTV, direct mail, telemarketing and so forth.

On the other hand, online people with little to no experience in traditional direct marketing experience, see little to no relevance with the direct marketing discipline. How could they? They don’t necessarily know direct marketing. 

In other words, some see online marketing as a totally different discipline.

Maybe the question any client should answer when hiring online people is whether they are looking for a channel specialist or a direct marketer.  Would they rather have a direct mail, a DRTV or an online specialist if these are core media for them? Or would they be better off finding a direct marketer who moves freely from one channel to the other?

On the other hand, can traditional direct marketers manage a talented team of online specialists and add to the group’s overall capabilities to improve acquisition and customer retention profitability? Some say there are problems with direct marketers and their management of online programs. Here are a few responses from my survey to give you a taste of how some answered my questions.

"They [direct marketers] often don't know how to craft a brand image....and how merchandising and the catalog pages support it. It's usually marketing by the numbers only.  The second is that they are less familiar with social media and "interactivity." That being said, they also bring a discipline in customer segmentation, testing, and modeling that the online world, I've found, is weaker in.

Social media is not their background, so like with any new discipline, they have to learn it from scratch.  A junior person doesn't usually learn both, and social media is so new, that if they are a traditional direct marketer, they probably don't have this experience. " 

"Some would argue that any good direct marketer these days should be able to do both traditional and online channels well, but I've found that the single biggest challenge for traditional marketers making the transition - especially consumer marketers - is that they tend to approach online in the same way they do direct mail or print ads - as a series of one-off efforts rather than an iterative process involving multiple steps toward a sale.  Some of these steps include getting email opt-ins and increasing engagement with a website.

DMers who were used to executing promotions where the goal was to generate an immediate sale have often tried to transpose that model onto the online channel.  Maybe it's their own inclination, maybe it's management pressure to show an immediate payback, but I've seen this in many companies."  

"[Traditional direct marketers are weak in the following areas] 

1. SEO- natural and paid search

2. Web metrics such as Omniture

3. How to engage and use partner strategies to drive traffic and revenue

4. Use of more advanced Web 2.0 tools like blogs, WOM, social networks etc." 

"There are really 2 different levels of folks: THOSE WHO PROBLEM SOLVE, Think and Strategize and those who are more hands on doing day to day stuff like using SQL tools, or deciding on the test cells, or doing the analysis. So it depends on what level of expertise you need who would be the right kind of person.

If they have the skills, are willing to learn and have an open mind you are mostly there. The detail knowledge can be learned or gotten from others-you just have to be the kind of person who will ask so you don’t assume things that can get you into trouble later."

So the answers to the question continue to evolve.

How would you, dear reader, have answered my question?

Posted on February 25, 2009 and filed under Online Marketing.