Is social media the great leveler between hardcore direct marketing and soft-core branding?

January 25, 2010

Let’s be honest, direct marketing has always been overshadowed (if not dismissed) by its more glamorous older brother, Advertising. Building brands via great stories has defined our industry for years. So-called “junk mail” and “infomercials” are considered stepchildren. Forget how much revenue DM creates, our industry has always given the love to its darlings. Consider the Superbowl or Cannes. DM has nothing remotely like them in terms of sizzle and prestige. Even the trades favor advertising. After all, the prefix to Adweek and Adage is “ad.”

When agencies merged and got swallowed by holding companies, ad firms and DM shops were thrust together, often unsuccessfully. The battles waged between above and below line practitioners became legend in our industry. Many were and still are contentious, resembling class wars or high school shenanigans. The tumultuous marriage between Draft and FCB is perhaps the best-known example.

Not long ago a new baby came along. Colicky to the extreme, ‘Digital’ demanded everyone’s attention. Even advertising took a back seat. (Baby needs her momma!) Digital quickly grew into a demanding and sexy young woman. She was the bomb. And still is. During these last few years, one could argue direct marketing went from being a stepchild to the middle child. Not to mix metaphors, but never the bride’s maid…

Enter Social Media. Try as we must, social media cannot be “owned” by advertising or digital agencies. It’s as if word of mouth became viral. Call it “world of mouth.” Regardless of your definition, if marketers aspire getting into these conversations we’re going to need tactics and schemes resembling those used by direct marketers. For every commercial downloaded enough times to matter, there are countless millions of deeper connections capable of being monetized. Can you say Search?

As marketers scramble to “get social” I found the similarities between SM and DM irresistible to point out. I may have come from the advertising side but I’ve always respected the rest. Is SM the great equalizer, leveling the playing field between Direct, Digital, Data and Advertising? One thing is certain; the agency of the future must pay heed to them all.

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9 Responses to “Is social media the great leveler between hardcore direct marketing and soft-core branding?”

  1. Yes. It’s also about helping people connect with like-minded peers and useful information.

  2. SRP said

    Though not exactly topic of this piece, scary, true musings on SM and its impact on society on Adpulp:

  3. Pale Writer said

    Great post, SRP.

  4. tjcnyc said

    It’s interesting to read this post, because I think of direct marketing and social media as extreme opposites.

    For direct marketers, the goal is to produce immediate action at the lowest cost. For social media, the goal is to promote goodwill in the short-term to produce long-term loyalty.

    Direct marketing in social media is the equivalent of marching into a birthday party and pushing a product in each guest’s face saying “Buy this now for only $7.99. Give me your credit card.”

    It’s closer to anti-social than it is to social.

    I don’t mean to imply that any form of marketing is inherently better or worse than another.

    There are times when marketers need to generate mass awareness and brand preference and traditional advertising makes a lot of sense. (There’s a reason that it’s still 80% of total marketing spend, and it’s not because marketers are dumb.)

    There are times when marketers need the goodwill and sense of discovery that social media can generate.

    And, there are times in any sales process where you must ask for the sale directly and unambiguously.

    A mix of these tactics, deployed at the right moments, can be powerful. But mixing them up I think is less so.

    • SRP said

      Good comment…
      Of course SM and DM are very different in the ways you point out but I’m suggesting that they share certain qualities that bind them completely. Thanks for reading/commenting…

  5. tjcnyc said

    Steffan, can you offer more about the qualities that bind DM and SM, either here or in a future post?

    I’m intrigued by the idea, but so far I see more differences than similarities. Maybe a more concrete example or two of the shared qualities would help me understand this better.

    • SRP said

      Similarities not about creative. Where SM & DM have much in common is targeting and search. Finding very specific people for very specific reasons. And, yes, abuses of this privilege are rampant… Agreed?

      • tjcnyc said

        Yes, I’d agree about targeting and search.

        It’s a separate conversation, but I’m convinced that the “abuses of this privilege” will lead us to a major privacy crisis.

        I predict we’re only a year or two away from this.

  6. Dean Logan said

    Having been a traditional “agency guy” who wound up working in DM exclusively for five years, I kind of land in the middle of this discussion.

    DM is very much about ACT NOW and specifically designed to elicit a very specific response.

    SM to me feels more like a cocktail party. You might be selling something but your approach can’t feel like a pitch. It has to have nuance, restraint and a certain degree of being okay with an outcome that may or may not be what you intended.

    Creative is simply an extension of that approach, whether it’s DM or SM. Best practices apply to each and they are very, very different.

    All that said, I absolutely do see the similarities in the targeting/listing/DMA/SEO/click rate/measurement-de-jour.

    The analytics and ways you can segment your targets are endless, these days, for both channels.

    The best results for DM or SM will always come from a place that is focused, disciplined and has a crystal-clear picture of what it wants to accomplish. and what constitutes success.

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