Thursday, May 6, 2010

Discoverable Messages and Direct Marketing

As marketers, we often think of there being a fundamental difference between the two ends of the media spectrum; on one end, direct, where an individual’s contact information is known and a message can be delivered directly, and on the other end mass media, where a broad audience is targeted based on demographics or audience characteristics. This has been an acceptable framework for a long time, as the difference in approach, goals, and outcomes has always been very significant.

This mental framework, however, disguises the fact that it is truly a spectrum. With recent advances in technology, and transitions in buyers, we are seeing a trend from both ends of the spectrum to progress towards the center. This means that the approach, goals, and outcomes of each media approach is becoming more similar, and the way in which we use them is also converging.

Mass Media and Precise Targeting

Mass media, historically, was extremely broadly targeted, based on high level demographics or audience profiles, and relied on your message being “discovered” by a small percentage of the viewing audience. Now, with online media, targeting of a message is growing ever more targeted. Ads can be targeted based on behavior, demographics, or firmographics, almost to the level of individuals, while search advertisements are targeted to the level of the query the individual is searching on.

No longer are these purely mass audiences. While they are not truly "direct" marketing in the sense that an individual's contact information is known, the precision with which the messages are delivered to specific segments makes them almost as precise.

Direct Marketing and the Challenge of Attention

On the other end of the spectrum, with the exponential growth in all forms of direct communications, especially online forms such as email, the challenge is no longer the delivery of the content. Now, the challenge is having the message within it “discovered” by the recipient, rather than ignored, thrown away, or deleted.

An email or direct mail piece may arrive (assuming things like good email deliverability, of course), as intended, at the recipient, but unless the recipient either trusts that the message will be of interest based on knowing the sender, or finds the subject line or teaser copy interesting, the message will be ignored. This is not unlike a television commercial or online banner ad that fails to attract the interest of the viewer.

Shared Challenges

The challenge that marketers now share, whether approaching this from the perspective of mass media or direct marketing, is that content must be both precisely targeted and highly relevant. The exact demographics, and most importantly psychographics, of who a buyer is and where she is in her buying process must be understood so that content, when presented, is "discovered". In the direct world, this can be measured by the rates of content interaction vs emotional unsubscribes while in the advertising world, it is measured by clickthrough rates on ads.

The more well targeted a message is in either approach, and the more relevant the content, the better a message is "discovered". It is only through having a message "discovered" and read that we as marketers are able to change the perceptions of our buyers.

How are you thinking about your messages? Are you seeing the difference between "direct" and "mass" media decrease?

Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
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