What Is Direct Marketing?

Direct marketing is a strategy where you promote your products and services directly to potential buyers. Your message to buy can be delivered through traditional marketing methods, such as email marketing, direct mail and telemarketing, and also through newer methods such as text messaging and social media ads.

Your marketing message will be communicated to groups of consumers who are likely to buy your products. This may include consumers who have bought from you before or shown an interest in your products, and also consumers with demographic profiles (age, gender, income, education, household size or location) that match your target audience.

Types of direct marketing

Unlike inbound marketing, where you create content for customers to discover on their own, direct marketing uses a variety of methods to deliver promotional messages directly to past and potential customers.

Direct mail

Direct mail is a traditional and still effective direct marketing method. It includes the use of physical marketing materials such as sales letters, coupons, postcards, flyers, catalogs, brochures and newsletters that are mailed to a specific group.


Using email to promote your products and services is a very popular digital marketing method that has been around for decades. While effective, it is also generally highly competitive and success often relies on creating a message that gets the reader’s attention.

Text messaging

As a newer method of direct marketing, short message service (SMS) marketing can be used to deliver short promotional messages via text while multimedia messaging service (MMS) marketing can be used for longer messages with attachments such as images, videos and links.

Social media

Ads on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and other social media platforms can be directed to your existing customers, your social media followers and consumers who resemble your target audience.

Telemarketing or telesales

Selling products and services by calling past and potential customers is another traditional direct marketing technique. Outbound telemarketing typically uses company employees or third-party call centers to contact potential customers.

In-person selling

In-person selling could also be included as a direct marketing method because it delivers a promotional message directly to consumers through activities such as door-to-door sales, event promotions and other face-to-face interactions.

Direct marketing vs. mass marketing

Though similar to direct marketing in the use of messaging to encourage consumers to buy, mass marketing delivers that message to the general public instead of to a targeted group of consumers. TV commercials, radio ads, print ads, billboards and digital kiosks are some types of mass marketing that are commonly used.

While you can influence who sees your promotional message, to some degree, in a mass marketing campaign by selecting certain time slots, publications and ad locations, the message itself isn’t delivered to individuals, as is generally the case in direct marketing.

Pros of direct marketing

Some advantages of using direct marketing include:

  • Directed to a target audience: Direct marketing will typically allow you to use the data you’ve collected on customers and potential buyers — demographic details and buying habits — to only target the consumers who are likely to buy your products.

  • Uses personalized messaging: Because you have details about your target audience, you can personalize your promotional messages by using first names, locations and purchase history in the content.

  • Easy to track: Because you’re sending your promotional message to a specific group, you can track the number of responses to each send to determine which methods are the most successful.

  • Offers quick results: Responses to a direct marketing campaign are generally quicker compared to inbound or mass marketing, for example, because your business is directly interacting with potential customers.

  • Can be affordable: Email, text messaging and social media ad campaigns can be included in your marketing plan at a relatively low cost, especially since you control the number of messages that go out.

  • Lends itself to automation: Businesses can use marketing software to automate many of the processes needed to send out email, text messaging, social media and direct mail campaigns, which saves your business time and makes it easier to track results.

Cons of direct marketing

Businesses should also consider the following disadvantages that are associated with direct marketing:

  • Can be considered intrusive: Direct marketing, especially if it’s unsolicited, can be considered intrusive and unwanted, which can lead to unsubscribes or negative brand sentiment.

  • Highly competitive: In today’s digital world, it can be a challenge to get the attention of consumers who are constantly inundated with promotions via emails, texts and digital ads.

  • Variable response rates: Because you’re reaching out to the consumer instead of them coming to your business with a purchase in mind, many recipients won’t respond to or even open the message. For example, a good response rate could be 10% for email, 2% for a direct mailing or a door-to-door campaign and less than 1% for digital ads.

  • Includes legal requirements: Direct marketing methods such as email, texting and telemarketing have legal requirements that give the customer the right to have you stop contacting them — such as a clear unsubscribe button on email messages — and can also result in penalties if you don’t follow the rules.

Direct marketing tips

Here are some tips that could help you make the most of your direct marketing efforts:

Define the budgets for your campaigns

Your marketing budget will influence the methods you use and the reach of your campaigns. For example, a small business with a limited marketing budget may decide to focus on email marketing to existing customers. On the other hand, a business with a larger budget might also include social media ads and direct mailings to potential customers in its strategy.

Segment your contact database

Dividing your contact list into small groups with similar demographic details or other characteristics can help you send messages that appeal to their specific needs. You may also want to include fields in your database that would allow you to segment existing customers from leads. Customer relationship management software will often have segmentation features that can make this process easier.

Personalize your message as much as possible

Using the details you have about customers and prospective buyers to customize a marketing message can set you apart from other businesses and improve open rates. For example, using a consumer’s name instead of a generic greeting in an email, text or direct marketing message can help improve engagement with the recipient.

Coordinate your marketing efforts

Because of the low response rates associated with direct marketing, using different marketing methods to deliver consistent promotional messages can help you achieve better results. Using similar text, images and calls to action can help customers remember your brand and the products and services you offer.


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