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May 4, 2017

What is direct marketing and does it actually work?

Published: 4 May 2017 

Everyone has witnessed a direct marketing campaign at some stage, even without consciously realising it. The mail we receive from companies we’ve dealt with in the past, offering us a special if we’ll do business with them again, through to the or a text message from the brand name retailer offering you a discount if you come into store within a certain time period.

Direct marketing is exactly what the names suggests: marketing directly to a target audience.

Rather than advertising through the television or newspaper, where the audiences are broad and unpredictable, these campaigns are specifically moulded for a target public. It is a far more personal type of marketing, and is a great way for businesses to promote something directly to a potential customer.

Forms of direct marketing include:

  • Direct mail: Posted mail which advertises your business and what your products or services. Direct mail can come in forms of catalogues, postcards, brochures, or envelope mailers.
  • Telemarketing: Phone calls to potential customers to sell your products or services. Telemarketing allows businesses to generate large volumes of new customer prospects and follow up your campaigns.
  • Email: Using emails for your marketing purposes is not only cost-effective, but also measurable. You can analyse your data to find out how successful each of your email campaigns were. Sending e-newsletters or promotional content allows you to advertise to existing clients, and even generate new leads.
  • SMS: SMS alerts are a helpful way for businesses to reach an individual and send appointment updates, sales alerts, or even personalised messages. If you’re going to include text marketing in your strategy, remember to act responsibly in order not to appear spammy.
  • Social media: Social media gives businesses the opportunity to not only promote their products or services, but to directly communicate with their audience. Share insightful content that is relevant to your target audience. This will mean your audience is not only more likely to comment, but also share your content, and therefore expanding your businesses social reach.

Why choose direct marketing?

There are many benefits to having a direct marketing strategy. Some include:

  • Measure results: you can easily use data from your direct mail campaigns to see the success rates of each campaign. This allows you to tweak certain aspects of your campaign to improve your results.
  • Targeting a specific audience: unlike traditional marketing forms such as television, print or radio advertising, you’re targeting a very specific audience. You can therefore personalise your message to achieve higher success rates.
  • Economical: for those who are conscious of their marketing budget, a direct marketing campaign could be the answer. Campaigns are very cost-efficient, particularly when compared to other forms of marketing.
  • Communication: direct marketing allows you to keep an open line of communication with your existing customers, while also expanding your reach and gaining new conversions.

If you’re considering undertaking a direct marketing campaign, it’s vital to ensure you know who your target audience is. To find out who your target audience is, you need to undertake market research. A good place to start is by analysing the key demographics of your customers - that is, their geographical location, gender, age, and ethnicity.

What does direct marketing involve?

What should you actually include in your direct marketing campaign?

  • A good mailing list: to achieve the best results, it’s important to ensure you have a reliable, accurate mailing list before you start your campaign. This will help to improve the response rate to your campaign.  
  • Design: it’s important that your direct marketing - whether it’s electronically or physical - is designed well. Something that looks aesthetically unpleasing will not capture the attention of your target audience, and you won’t achieve the desired results. If need be, engage with a professional designer who can help with your marketing materials.
  • Call to action: you need to make it obvious not only why people should be interested in your product or service, but what they should be doing about it. If the customer can’t do anything with your piece of direct marketing, you’re not going to see any results. Make sure it’s easy for customers to contact you, whether that is by including a URL, an email address, a postal address or a telephone number.
  • Follow up: don’t just stop at one direct mail campaign. Keep your audience engaged and interested in your products or services by running several campaigns.
  • Promotions: if your budget allows for it, consider including promotional incentives in your direct marketing. This is a sure way to increase the response rate.
  • Analyse the data: it’s important to track your campaign so you can measure the rates of success. This is particularly easy to do if you’re engaging in email campaigns. Analysing your data will allow you to see open and click-through rates. If these rates are low, you know there is room for improvement, and your strategy can be tweaked.


Does it work?

So the main question businesses need answered is - does direct marketing actually work?

The Australian Direct Marketing Association (ADMA) undertook a study into consumer attitudes to direct marketing. The study found 74 percent of consumers were happy to receive direct marketing, so long as it was relevant, they already had an existing relationship with the company or it was a brand they trusted, and if they had control over whether or not to receive the marketing. If these three elements were not met, positive responses to any communication halved.

To ensure your direct marketing campaign is successful, it’s important to meet all three elements. If not, your direct marketing campaign is sure to have disappointing results. This is why it’s vital to start your campaign with solid market research, to ensure you’re targeting the correct audience and you know their interests and purchasing behaviour. Otherwise, you could end up spending time targeting people who simply aren’t interested in what your business has to offer.

Many large businesses in Australia have taken advantage of direct marketing to raise awareness of their campaigns. These cases can show you how direct marketing can be done successfully, and what you should avoid doing:

Earth Hour

Source: SemaGroup

Earth Hour is an initiative that was launched in Sydney in 2007, which sees people and businesses turn their lights off for one hour. This aims to draw attention to the global effort to tackle global warming. 10 years later, Earth Hour is celebrated in over 172 countries.

To raise awareness of the amount of energy we waste when we leave lights on overnight, Earth Hour undertook a direct marketing campaign. CEOs were sent the Earth Hour Candle Box. As the candle is pulled out of the box, it simulates lights being switched off. This is a great example of how creativity can go a long way to highlight a good cause.

GPY&R Melbourne

Source: GPY&R

GPY&R Melbourne’s ‘Air Force FM’ direct marketing campaign was so successful, it received the Direct Grand Prize and the New York Festivals International Advertising Awards.

The company created an Air Force radio station, which played a radio ad on loop. To hear this ad, engineering students were sent all the parts they needed to assemble and create a radio. The only thing that was missing was the instructions. This meant the students had to show their problem solving skills to properly assemble the radio. Students who were successful in creating the radio were able to hear the ad, which offered a way to fast track their careers.


Source: Australia Post

BMF were trying to recruit the best graduates from the Advertising Federation of Australia class of 2010. Rather than going through the normal recruitment process, BMF decided to try something different. The company sent 49 flat-pack seats to graduates, with recipients tasked to make something creative with the seat. Candidates were required to email the agency and attach photos, videos, text or audio of their creations.

BMF achieved amazing success from this campaign. They received a 106 per cent response rate - as some graduates applied multiple times. The campaign also resulted in 17,749 hits to the BMF blog.

Weight Watchers

Source: ABC News

This is an example of what NOT to do if you’re considering undertaking a direct marketing campaign.

Weight Watchers Black is a program that aimed to “help you love how you look and love how you feel.” However, their “see yourself in a new light” direct marketing campaign missed the mark, and failed to promote self-love and body positivity.

Female journalists across Australia were sent a box that contained a light bulb, or as they call it, a “mood light”, and a blurb insinuating women feel self-conscious being intimate with the lights on. The campaign received negative feedback, as it was a campaign that appeared to prey on the insecurities of women. This caused senior management to issue a statement, admitting the light bulb didn’t make much sense without the context of the campaign.

It is clear that direct marketing campaigns can work, and achieve extraordinary results, but only if they’re implemented correctly. It’s always important to ensure you undertake thorough market research before starting a direct marketing campaign. To avoid disasters, make sure the aim of your campaign is completely clear, and cannot be taken out of context. Always consider your target audience, and what their interests are, and you’re sure to have a successful direct marketing campaign.

Know any other direct mail campaigns that stood out from the crowd? Let us know in the comments.

Ben Maden

Read more posts by Ben

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