DDM: the new key to e-marketing relevance?
The term 'direct digital marketing' (DDM) is slowly but surely defining a new technology market segment where message relevance and process automation rule the marketing roost, according to Brian Deagan of digital marketing firm Knotice.
Consumers are increasingly demanding greater relevance in how marketers communicate with them, and a disconnect between this demand and marketers' ability to fulfil it has historically been behind a lack of real return on investment in marketing communications.
This, Deagan argues, is why the emerging philosophy of DDM has become so important today. It is easy to recognise the direct marketing (DM) roots of DDM, as the two concepts do share some common characteristics. For example, both are methods of sending marketing communications directly to a consumer, although they employ very different channels in doing so. Both also include consumer "calls to action" that are be addressed to each individual, and are intended to create the ideal conditions for the consumer to make a purchase.
But that is where the similarities appear to end. Rather than believing that old-fashioned DM has simply evolved into DDM, it is perhaps more accurate to recognise that DDM has actually branched off and begun developing its own identity in the world of marketing.
DDM comprises three basic message delivery channels: email, the web, and the mobile phone. The common link that ties those channels together is the fact that each channel has an individual consumer address (a parallel to the postal address used for DM). Every online consumer has an email address, their web browser will (usually) store a cookie for each site it visits, and most consumers have a mobile phone number. Addressability is the key component of DDM, and it is the underlying necessity for any marketer's online success.
Apart from the three channels of DDM, the concept also encompasses two other primary perspectives:
- The consumer's perspective If the marketer has the three digital addresses for a consumer, it is only fair for the consumer to expect any communication that comes through these personal channels to be relevant to them. The savvy online consumer has learned to abhor messages that do not pertain to their needs or desires. Their hatred of non-relevant messages is enabled by the control they wield with the "Report Spam" button, available to almost every email user.
DDM has the ability to guard against communications being labelled as spam - the equivalent of DM's junk mail problem - with an up-to-date consumer database, as well as various testing and optimisation tools. For the direct digital marketer, message relevance is more than just securing an 'opt-in' and assuming the consumer wants to hear what they have to say. It is a dedication to understanding each consumer and applying that ever-changing knowledge to enhance their personal experience with the brand - and ultimately to convince them to buy more.
- The marketer's perspective While DDM has the potential to be a consumer's dream with its emphasis on relevance, the marketer encounters some major challenges that need to be met with centralisation and process improvement. The biggest challenge that must be overcome is the digital marketing ecosystem itself. The email, web, and mobile channels have the addresses necessary to deliver direct, relevant, digital marketing communications. But the message delivery historically comes from disparate systems that draw on disparate databases. In other words, today's digital marketer probably has a database of customer information gathered off-line, another database of CRM data or purchase history data, and yet another database for behavioural activity. And that's just the database ecosystem. The digital marketing channel ecosystem is a mirror image, with one software platform being needed for email, another to host and create compelling offers on landing pages and the web site, and yet another to conduct mobile campaigns.
It may sound complex, but being good at DDM is absolutely possible for any marketer, even with a limited budget. However, there are two key requirements that must be in place first:
- A unified database The first requirement is having a single database that is capable of storing all of the data necessary to execute a DDM campaign. For example, a hypothetical marketer has three separate databases that contain 1,000 units each of useful customer and prospect data. The first database is for email marketing, the second is for web analytics, and the third is the beginning of a mobile marketing database. The marketer needs to centralise that data, providing easy access to 3,000 units of data that can be carved up into useful - and often previously unattainable - segments.
- Being able to generate calls to action The second requirement is having the ability to turn that data into a marketing communication with a specific call-to-action. The centralised database is only a benefit if it can be easily used to send relevant marketing communications that can be addressed to a customer or prospect through any of the three channels.
For example, having taken the steps necessary to centralise the data, the marketer is now able to create a segment of customers who subscribe to the company's email newsletter, and who rarely click-through from it but are very active with mobile coupons. That group of subscribers can now receive content in their email newsletter that is more consistent with how they choose to interact with the brand and, more importantly, how they choose to spend money with the brand.
All such communications should be tested and optimised, Deagan warns. For example, if a data segment contains email newsletter subscribers who have both purchased something in the past and those who subscribe but rarely open the email and have not purchased anything, then each sub-segment will at least require different email subject lines. Before the full campaign is released, the marketer can use a small portion of the list to test the effectiveness of two different subject lines for each sub-segment and then deploy the most effective ones for each group.
Knotice has observed that the concept of DDM is starting to gain momentum worldwide, and predicts that the vendor landscape will eventually become crowded with companies that each have a different perspective and method of execution. However, a clear understanding of such a fundamental approach to tech-savvy consumers - and how it can affect online marketing communications - is becoming essential if brands are to remain relevant in their customer communications.