The Basics of Direct Marketing

Direct marketing is a form of advertising that allows businesses and organizations to communicate directly with customers through a variety of media, such as phone calls, text messages, emails, fliers, brochures, and targeted online ads. Since it's an aggressive form of marketing, it can work to grow a customer base, but it needs to be carefully planned and implemented. To get started with your planning, learn about the basics of direct marketing first.

The Goal

Promoters sharing flyers in the park with a mother and her young son.
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The overarching goal of a direct marketing campaign is to persuade consumers to take actions that result in tangible, measurable results, such as purchases, signups, or requests for more information. 

A key factor in the success of any direct marketing campaign is what industry experts refer to as a "call to action." That means direct marketing campaigns should offer an incentive or enticing message to get consumers to respond (i.e., act). A successful direct marketing campaign usually offers consumers a benefit, whether it is money off their next purchase, a limited-time coupon, or, for a nonprofit, an invitation to an event or discounted membership.

While direct marketing involves an organization attempting to locate, contact, offer, and make incentive-based information available to consumers, it also needs to get a return on investment. If handing out flyers to drum up business at your newly launched pizza parlor doesn't result in more customers, then it's not worth the employees' time.

The good thing about direct marketing is that there are so many alternatives that if one approach doesn't work, you can easily switch to another. Instead of flyers, for example, you could try an online promotion for a free beverage for first-time customers.

Types of Tactics

Coupon on computer keyboard is an example of a direct marketing tacit.
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The world of marketing is always evolving, but common types of direct marketing include:

  • Telemarketing (phone calls)
  • Robocalling (automated phone calls) 
  • Text messages
  • Emails
  • Targeted online ads
  • Television infomercials
  • Coupon ads
  • Direct mail
  • Flyers and handouts
  • Kiosks and stands
  • Door-to-door solicitation 

Creating Effective Campaigns

A close up of an apartment mail box bank with direct marketing mail sticking out of the boxes.
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Companies and organizations can get creative with their direct marketing efforts to help them stand out. For instance, to help direct mail pieces stand out in a pile of typical mail, companies may send flyers with large and unusual shapes, pop-ups, or even 3D objects.

Generally, direct marketing campaigns should target people who have expressed interest or are likely to be interested in what your company offers rather than mass marketing campaigns used to create general awareness. For example, a new ice cream shop may want to send coupons shaped like ice cream cones to local households with kids at the start of summer. More targeted and personalized campaigns usually generate better results.

The type of direct marketing that will work for your business depends on your industry, your budget, and the consumers you're targeting. However, keep in mind that aggressive or misleading direct marketing can leave people with a bad impression of your business. Be sure to adhere to privacy and contact laws on a federal and state level. Not doing so could hurt both your reputation and your revenue because there are stiff fines and penalties for companies that violate direct marketing laws.