I could not agree more strongly with Rosemary Smith, the new chair of the Direct Marketing Association, that: "If [direct marketing] didn't work, companies wouldn't use it" (reported in the Financial Times on January 4, 2007). The £17bn spent on it every year speaks for itself.
I also applaud her recognition that consumers are the other side of the coin. Her decision to devote more attention to understanding their needs and to focus messages on the benefits direct marketing brings (such as loyalty schemes, discount offers and pricing information) will help change perceptions and in turn increase spend by organisations on direct.
However, of her three stated priorities (environment, engagement and expertise), the final one should be made supreme because of its potential to advance the others.
If expertise, specifically in digital forms of direct marketing such as email, caught up with booming client demand then we could expect to see an even faster shift away from mail, with obvious benefits for the environment.
Similarly, if digital direct marketing expertise was harnessed to its full effect, a greater number of consumers would find it within their power to modify the frequency and nature of communications received from businesses.
What better way to engage consumers than with entertaining, informative and interactive messages delivered when and where they want them?
In addition to a focus on developing digital expertise, Rosemary should add two further Es to her advocacy list: expense and extension.
Return on investment is a key consideration for companies and direct shouldn't be afraid to take on other forms of marketing to claim a greater share of budgets.
Direct's fast-growing digital component can offer greater ROI than even traditional forms, which is another good reason to focus on digital.
Secondly, she should promote the benefits of direct to organisations beyond the usual suspects -- financial services providers, publishers, retailers and charities -- who might be attracted by direct's, and particularly digital direct's, targeting ability.
Direct marketing's advance into digital has hitherto been held back by vested agency interests because of the amount of money businesses have been prepared to pay to run postal campaigns.
The net result is that we're way behind other forms of digital advertising such as online display and search.
Businesses and consumers would like to see the DMA not only push the envelope further by embracing five Es, but also push the "send" button by making digital expertise supreme.
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