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How Will Technology Evolve Direct Marketing Best Practices in the Next 20 Years?

Posted by Sheera Eby on March 12, 2014

Many people would argue direct marketing is on the decline. The reality is, however, that the principles and best practices of direct marketing are becoming more commonplace. Technology is enabling direct marketing principles to be applied to a myriad of channels. As a result, direct marketing best practices are currently being utilized in many measurable channels across a number of different industries. Examples include call-to-action buttons in email, limited-time retail offers and retargeted banner ads based on web user behavior. These are all current channels leveraging the tried and true direct marketing best practices.



Direct marketing is predicated on being able to target, segment and tailor communications to increase relevancy and drive action. It is a set of tools and techniques, such as offers, incentives and expiration dates, to generate response and conversion. Direct marketing and direct mail are not synonymous.

So what will the next generation of direct marketing look like? How will technology help elevate the delivery of direct marketing practices? Here are some wild guesses. Some are a bit aspirational, and some are probably even on many marketers’ wish lists.


1. Technology will enable offers and incentives to be behaviorally customized.
This might fall in the dream category, but wouldn’t it be exciting if when a user hits a landing page the offer could change? The offer could be based on other browsing history, previous purchases or other behavioral information. Imagine you are shopping on a website and a customized offer is made across three of the products you recently searched. Dishing up behaviorally based offers could be a dream, or maybe with the advent of technology, a reality.


The use of offers and incentives is one of the fundamental direct marketing best practices that spans channels. Limited-time offers are a useful device for email, content marketing, landing pages, digital lead generation and any other channel that is focused on generating an action. Today we can do customized offers by segments—maybe tomorrow we’ll be able to deliver dynamically, behaviorally based offers and incentives.



2. Every communication includes a call-to-action, awareness-based communications completely fade away.
Today marketers have a lot of pressure and budget accountability. This seems to be a trend, and not a fad that will go away. The truth is that all communications work better with calls-to-action. A direct marketing practice is to ensure a perceived sense of urgency. Urgency needs to be tied directly to signing up or taking the action requested.


So, if digital banner ads, content marketing pages, email and other communications all work harder with a defined and requested action, why would awareness-based communications need to exist? In the future, technology will hopefully enable measurement regardless of medium. This will require the definition of an objective that can be tied to an action, possibly diminishing the appeal of awareness as an objective.



3. Floating expiration dates are used and change based on when the communications are received, not sent.
One of the fundamental proven direct marketing best practices is to provide an expiration date. Why would someone act now when procrastinating is so much easier? If the offer doesn’t have an end date, it simply won’t be as effective.


Fast-forward fifteen or twenty years. Imagine expiration dates changing based on when the recipient receives the communication. Rather than having fixed expiration dates, technology allows that date to be customized around the user experience. So, if user 1 opens an email today and user 2 opens the email three days later, the expiration date changes. Crazy sounding, but I’d hypothesize extremely effective.


A typical response curve demonstrates the power of expiration dates, showing that responses tend to peak around the final days of any offer. Unfortunately, marketers can’t optimize every offer window around this learning. Marketers using direct mail have to account for USPS delivery. Marketers using email recognize that it often takes multiple emails to drive action. Being able to customize expiration dates around a user experience could have a significant impact on response.



4. Measurement happens real-time.
Direct marketing was founded on the principle of measurement. One of the key direct marketing best practices is to ensure a mechanism to measure results. This principle is now an expectation across a number of different marketing channels.


Digital marketing channels have made measurement more accessible and efficient. I’d argue that in the future technology will make measurement easier and even more accessible. Enterprise systems integrating and sharing information across platforms. Real-time updates being sent to marketers via their mobile devices. Reams of information presented in a usable and consumable format. Sounds dreamy, maybe 20 years is too soon, but sometime, hopefully, we’ll get there.



5. Calls-to-actions follow eye patterns and navigational tendencies.
While many people read pages similarly, there are still differences in how we all consume information. In the future, maybe we’ll be able to understand how to tailor communications around an individual’s reading, navigation and eye patterns.


For example, wouldn’t it be cool if the call-to-action could be customized on a page dependent on your eye patterns? Before you feel dizzy, it won’t necessarily change before your eyes. Techniques like this one could be based on one of the fundamental direct marketing best practices. Past behavior is a predictor of future behavior.





6. Targeting and relevancy truly get down to the one-to-one level.
A direct marketing best practice is to leverage segmentation and targeting to improve relevancy. Generic communications that are mass-oriented aren’t employing direct or any form of response marketing. Technology should continue to be an enabler in improving a marketer’s ability, from a data and efficiency standpoint, to leverage personalization and relevancy.



This article hypothesizes how technology will impact direct marketing best practices over the next 20 years. But what about today? Do you believe your communications are optimized for response? Do you feel your communications could be more response and direct marketing oriented? Sign up for our Improving Performance and Optimizing Your Communciations webinar.

Topics: Direct Marketing, Best Practices

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