In many ways, direct marketing works backwards to conventional advertising. It’s like learning to type by the “hunt and peck” system, unlearning that, and learning the touch system. 

Let’s look at some of these differences.

Direct Marketing Is a Business of Numbers

Because direct marketing generates a response back to the advertiser, the effect of any promotion can be measured. That means testing possibilities are unlimited, and all can be converted to the universal language of numbers.

Direct Marketing is an Immediate Call to Action

This means that you are trying to either sell something direct or get someone to identify themselves as being possibly interested (an inquiry). Either case requires direct action.
In direct marketing, all kinds of efforts are made to get you to respond right now. One of these devices is the action device. This is often expressed as: 

  • Limited time offer
  • Offer expires x date
  • Hurry, while they last
  • If you act now, we’ll give you a free x 
  • Our price is guaranteed for x days

General advertising is often creating awareness, so when you see the product in a store you will be familiar with it and may try it. Or, when you are in need, you may specifically remember it and seek it out. The process could take years.

Direct Marketing is a Personal Media

If direct marketing can print your name on a label, they can certainly personalize a letter to you. Personalized letters work. Because of a particular list you are on, something is known about you. So, without divulging the list source, they can talk about subjects known to be interesting to that reader. (Note: This is done in general terms. If you have a person’s birthday on a list and specifically refer to it, you may get a backlash that could hurt more than it has helped.)

Direct Marketing is Targeted

If a product or service is available everywhere and of universal interest, there is no place for direct marketing. The mass media, television, radio, newspapers and magazines are, perhaps, 100 times less expensive than mail or 1000 times less expensive than telephone.


Direct mail and telephone pay for themselves when they can target good prospects. If you are looking for the 1000 bakery owners in Los Angeles, you could use the Los Angeles Times and one million people would be exposed to your ad. Metropolitan papers are often pleased with 40% coverage. That could mean that even with your one million circulation, 100 of the 1000 bakers you are trying to reach don’t subscribe.
Conversely, there are lists of every bakery, compiled from either the Yellow Pages or credit reports. You can even select those bakers who own the largest (or smallest) bakeries. You can target it as precisely as a female college senior who lives in Utah, goes to school in Ohio, and majors in engineering!

Unfortunately, with a selection like this, you may only get one name. You can fall into the trap of over selecting.

Direct Mail Can Tell a Complete Story

An important advantage is to tell a complete story. Some products and services require it, especially new products and services.

Complete stories may be told in many ways: 

  • Pages and pages of copy
  • Many pictures
  • A swatch of material
  • A beautiful smelling sachet
  • A sample
  • A pop-up three dimensional

If you are introducing a new magazine, it is almost impossible to get the total flavor in this highly competitive field without seeing scores of pictures and features. That is why almost all new magazines are introduced by mail.

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