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Direct Marketing

What is direct marketing?

Direct marketing is a form of promotion for products or services in which a company delivers its marketing message directly to its target audience. 

It differs from other types of marketing which rely on broadcasting a company’s message to a general audience. 

Another way in which direct marketing is distinct from other forms is its goal. While many forms of marketing aim to make more people aware of a brand and increase its exposure, direct marketing aims to make recipients perform a specific action. 

The kind of action direct marketers might aim to elicit could be anything from simply visiting a website or providing an email address, all the way to getting a quote or even making a purchase. 

Because of this, most direct marketing will include a clear call to action. 

Lots of different types of companies can implement direct marketing. 

For instance, if an online camping store is having a half-price sale on sleeping bags, they might email customers who have previously purchased tents to let them know. People with tents are more likely to need sleeping bags, so it makes sense to market directly to them

Alternatively, a new food delivery service might run ads on social media to people who fit their target demographic and live in the city they operate. Though it’s not guaranteed that these people will be interested in the service, there is a much higher chance than your average person. 

How does direct marketing work?

If you think of advertising as a sales pitch, mass media marketing might be represented by someone standing at the side of a busy street, pitching their products to anyone who will listen. 

Direct marketing, on the other hand, is more like (and sometimes literally is) someone picking up the phone, dialing someone they’re pretty sure will be interested in their product, and pitching it to them personally. 

This all allows for highly targeted, personalized, and usually more effective marketing. 


Specific targeting of potential customers is what distinguishes direct marketing. 

If your company has a sale on baby clothes, you might target people you know to be young parents. If your company is having a sale, you might target existing customers who you know would be interested in the deals. 

Targeting might include:

  • Existing customers whose contact details you received during a previous purchase
  • Potential customers whose information you’ve received from more general marketing activities 
  • Potential customers who demographically match your target audience (for example, on social media)


Just like with any other marketing campaign, direct marketing messages are designed to get consumers excited about the products and/or promotions that a company has on offer. 

What’s unique about direct marketing is the level of specificity that goes into the messaging. 

Firstly, it’s likely that the content of the message will be tailored to the recipient, and might include their name, a reference to where they live, and information about previous purchases. 

Then, it’s likely that the company will personalize what is advertised in the message. They might include products they know the customer has browsed before, or offer promotions based on previous shopping habits. 

While the number of customers targeted might be huge, companies will usually try and inject as high a level of personalization as possible. 

Call to action 

Another unique feature of direct marketing is the heavy use of calls to action. 

A call to action is when the marketer encourages the recipient of the promotional message to immediately react to the marketing message. 

Often this is as simple as clicking a link, but might also involve making a purchase, calling the company for a quote, or taking some other action. 

Not only does the call to action help move the potential buyer along the marketing funnel towards a purchase, they are also an important indicator of success for the campaign. Marketers can register responses to calls to action to see how effective the message was. 


Direct marketing campaigns are almost always followed up by a process of analysis to find out:

  • How much revenue the campaign brought in (the return on investment)
  • Which customers were most receptive to the marketing campaign
  • Which deals or products were the most popular
  • Which messaging was most effective
  • How they can improve for future marketing campaigns

Direct marketers will usually segment their database of recipient, and send different deals, products, or messaging, to see which is the most effective. 

Forms of direct marketing channels

The channel through which a company decides to carry out its direct marketing will depend on a number of factors. 

Since it often involves sending communications directly to specific customers, it can only be done through channels or which the company contact details or biographical information. 

Direct marketers will also spend a good amount of time analyzing which channels their specific target audience is most likely to be receptive to. 

List of the most common different types of direct marketing include:

  • Emails
  • Text messages and phone calls
  • Brochures and catalogs
  • Targeted online display ads
  • Newsletters
  • Coupons

Examples of direct marketing

To help give a little more context to how direct marketing works, we’ve collected a few examples of companies’ marketing departments really getting direct marketing right. 

1. KitKat Chunky 

To make customers aware of and excited about their KitKat Chunky chocolate bar, Nestle delivered mailers to customers which looked like missed parcel delivery notes. 

Instead of telling the customer their package was with a neighbor, though, the mailer directed them to a local store at which they could exchange the coupon for a free KitKat Chunky. 

2. Reebok 

Sports and clothing brands often use direct marketing email to alert existing customers to promotions and sales opportunities. 

Sports brand Reebok is famed for its flash sales, which it promotes in emails designed to promote FOMO (fear of missing out) in their customers. 

Creating pressure to buy based on FOMO is a prominent feature of many direct marketing campaigns. 

3. Ford 

New product launches are a prime opportunity for marketers to roll out some targeted direct marketing. 

When car manufacturers Ford released their Super Duty F-450 truck, they selected customers and potential customers they were confident would be interested in the car and send them SMS messages with product specifications. 

The SMS included a link inviting the customers to find out more about the product. 

4. Amazon

Cart abandonment is when a customer leaves an eCommerce store having put some items in their cart, but before they purchase them. 

Abandoned cart recovery is when the store keeps hold of the items in the cart, and encourages customers to purchase them later. 

Mega-retailer Amazon is particularly effective at cart recovery. Not only will they send customers emails reminding them what was in their abandoned carts, but they also suggest other, similar products which might also be of interest. 

This is a great example of super targeted direct marketing. 

Importance and benefits of direct marketing

Direct marketing campaigns are useful both for the company that is running them, as well as the recipients who are targeted with the messaging. 

This is because, unlike mass advertising campaigns that are indiscriminate with their messaging, direct marketing is shown only to consumers who have a high likelihood of being interested in purchasing the product or service on offer. 

Unlike mass advertising, which is presented to everyone, direct marketing is presented only to people who are suspected to have an interest or need in your company’s product, based on information gathered about them.

This helps make effective direct marketing campaigns which:

Are personalized

Depending on the degree of information a company has captured about their customers, direct advertising can feature highly personalized messaging.  

From the tone of the language and visual design, to the products featured or promotional deal offered, customer insights can make for much more effective advertising. 

Direct marketing campaigns are all about making potential customers feel that they are the focus of the message. 

Are cheaper to run

Since a direct marketing campaign is all about targeting a very specific group of consumers than broadcasting your message, they tend to cost a lot less than other types of campaigns. 

If you think about having to pay for every set of eyes that sees your ad, it’s obvious that it’s more cost-effective to only pay for the eyes which are more likely to be interested in what you have to offer. 

Offer a higher return on investment 

Related to the lower cost of running a direct marketing campaign is the fact that they also tend to have a higher return on investment than traditional advertising techniques. 

This is because the potential that any given targeted customer in a direct marketing campaign will make a purchase is higher than with other types of campaigns. 

Think again about paying for eyes to see your ads, if 70% are likely to make a purchase, you’ll have a better return on your investment than if 20% are. You’re paying the same amount for more potential sales. 

Can be measured

Another great feature of direct marketing, at least from the point of view of the marketers, is that most direct marketing channels have built-in ways of measuring the success of a campaign. 

Being able to track which messaging was most effective, which customers were receptive to the campaign, and what your specific return on investment means that direct marketers are able to quickly learn from each campaign. 

This means that they can rapidly and efficiently improve their future campaigns, and run a more efficient business.

Written by

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Duncan is obsessed with making website building and eCommerce accessible to everyone. He explains the best tools and the latest digital marketing trends in ways that are clear and engaging. His focus is on supporting the sustainable growth of small to medium-sized enterprises. When not writing, he enjoys deep sea fishing and endurance cycling.

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