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Direct Marketing Goes Digital: Addressability Matters More Than Ever
The core principles of direct marketing are significantly more effective when translated online in the form of direct digital marketing.

September 28, 2009

Published by The American Marketing Association
Written by Josh Gordon

A common marketing misconception is that traditional advertising and modern digital marketing are nothing alike. Traditional advertising and marketing communications are divided into two primary types – addressable communications (direct marketing) and non-addressable communications (mass marketing). For example, marketing organizations have used direct mail campaigns – which are addressable with a physical address – to achieve certain sales goals, and mass communications like television advertising to meet brand awareness goals. Each strategy is important, though starkly different in execution and measurability.

Rather than approaching digital marketing the same way as traditional – having addressable and non-addressable communications strategies – marketers have gathered every online tactic, strategy, and channel together under one umbrella called “online.” What appears to be an innocent mistake on the part of marketers, driven by how marketers first leveraged the Internet channel when it initially burst onto the marketing scene nearly two decades ago, has now created the opportunity for the emergence of a fully defined discipline of addressable online marketing called, simply, direct digital marketing.

While traditional direct marketing is defined as a single message delivered to a single postal address, direct digital marketing extends that basic principle to the three primary online delivery channels – email, Web, and mobile. The email channel uses an email address to reach a consumer, the Web channel uses a Web browser cookie for an address, and the mobile channel, obviously, uses the mobile phone number. The continued evolution of marketing places increased emphasis on accountability and measurability of results, and no discipline of marketing offers more of both than direct digital marketing.

Direct digital marketing is not designed to replace tried and true, established marketing methods. Traditional direct marketing is still thriving and effective. The personalization and targeting capabilities – from inserting the name of the recipient in the creative to targeting a specific zip code – make direct mail a relevant tactic now and for the foreseeable future. However, while the consumer still has a physical address, reaching them at home is no longer the most efficient or effective method of meeting sales and marketing goals. The modernization and mobility of the consumer has forced the discipline of marketing to innovate.

There are several key differences that highlight the separation between direct digital marketing and traditional direct marketing.

First, direct digital marketing offers enhanced accountability – in real time. An email send provides click through and conversion data instantly, keeping the marketing manager and the board room equally satisfied. A common and useful measuring stick for direct marketing is cost per sale. An email campaign gathers and computes both sides of the equation – the cost to send the campaign and the total sales from the campaign – easily and instantly. A traditional direct marketing campaign using direct mail cannot measure any results in real time, and frustrated marketers sometimes struggle to determine a reliable sales figure from the campaign.

Second, direct marketing’s hallmark is targeting, but direct digital marketing takes targeting to a completely new, microscopic level. For example, a traditional direct mail campaign focuses on targeting to a specific zip code. If the campaign objective requires a deeper level of targeting, the cost goes up. With direct digital marketing all types of targeting and segmentation have the same cost – no matter how specific the target gets. Also, the opportunities for targeting are vast. While direct marketing targets primarily on geographic and demographic data, direct digital marketing goes much further by targeting on very specific data points like recent purchase history.

Third, modern consumers demand relevant communications, meaning the message must both appeal to the consumer and be received at the right time. Not only do statistics show consumers are more likely to make a purchase when the marketing content is timely and relevant to their specific needs, sending a consumer content that is not relevant damages a potentially profitable relationship. Sure, sales figures improve with relevant content, but the cost of irrelevance is high.

Last, direct digital marketing offers a more pleasing return on investment. Message relevance demands more versions of the creative, but the cost for developing more versions of the marketing content for a direct digital marketing campaign – even if a new version is needed at the eleventh hour (as usual) – are often less than changes to an offline piece of content. Marketers also have the flexibility to be as specific as they would like to be when targeting a certain group, while the cost for micro-targeting through traditional channels is so high that it becomes difficult to incorporate into the campaign strategy.

Direct digital marketing takes many of the core components that make direct marketing effective and significantly extends them. While it is tempting to list the pillars of marketing’s modern medium – email, Web, and mobile – under the old and trusty direct marketing name, it is a misnomer because direct digital marketing offers so much more than traditional direct marketing. The promise of enhanced accountability, the tremendous targeting capabilities, the ability to create relevant content, and the reduced cost of designing and executing a campaign make direct digital marketing ideal for addressable online communications. Marketers must begin thinking about “online marketing” the same way they think about traditional marketing. Online offers opportunities for mass marketing with display and banner advertising and search, and addressable marketing in the form of direct digital marketing.

Direct marketing has evolved because the consumer has evolved. While traditional marketing methods are still effective, the rapidly increasing importance of specific metrics demands that marketers adopt a more accountable approach. No other marketing discipline delivers effective, measurable results like direct digital marketing.

Adhering to the established methods, or even slight updates to old strategies, are not acceptable for a marketer who is determined to achieve communications that are fresh and relevant. Addressable, accountable, and efficient marketing is necessary for survival. Direct digital marketing offers the flexibility marketing managers crave and the measurability the C-Suite demands.

Josh Gordon is the Editor-in-Chief of the popular direct digital marketing blog, The Lunch Pail, and Director of Marketing at Knotice, a direct digital marketing solutions company. Contact Gordon at (

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