Dangerous Extremes in Marketing Analysis

Josh GordonMass marketing is dead. Direct mail is dead. Email marketing is dead. A quick Google search, with each phrase in quotations, yielded 7,050 results, 3,850 results, and 44,300 results respectively.
Two quick conclusions can be drawn when analyzing these results. First, the huge disparity between email marketing’s perceived death and the others makes me wonder if it is the direct mail and mass marketing folks who are writing about email’s death.
The second conclusion is more complex, but begs a follow up question – Why is there such a strong desire to proclaim the death of certain types of marketing?

Very few communications channels actually die off completely. And, if they do, it is a long, slow, and drawn out type of death… the kind we see in old Westerns. Take, for example, the telegram, generally considered a dead medium. Long after old Westerns featured this once advanced form of communication – which first hit the marketplace in 1856 – the telegraph lines became silent. Everyone knows the telegram was not being heavily used in the past decade – or the past five decades – but Western Union did not send its final telegram until February of 2006. After a long, slow, drawn out decrease in telegram usage it was declared dead.

It is for this reason that it is so dangerous to declare the death of a medium. In fact, modern mediums, unlike the telegram, evolve, rather than die out.

Marketers still have a use for mass marketing, direct mail, and email marketing. In fact, the idea that email marketing is being discussed as a dead, or dying, channel lacks credibility. Each channel is evolving in its own way.

Evolving in mass marketing may be a shift from using it as a promotional tool to solely a branding tool. Evolving in direct mail means finding measurable ways to boost customer traffic to offline and online locations. Evolving in email marketing requires more emphasis on lifecycle communications and behavior-based programs.

Direct digital marketing has its role to play in enhancing the evolution of various communications channels. The ability to push personalized and relevant messages to email, mobile, and Web channels with such ease has forced marketers to make budget trade offs during an economic downturn, but those trade offs will likely stay in place. Money once earmarked for direct mail campaigns or TV buys was reallocated to a more accountable, more quantifiable, marketing discipline. That does not mean, however, that mass marketing, direct mail – and certainly email marketing – are dead or even dying out.

The desire to draw eyeballs to a headline must not overpower the mandate to advance the marketing dialogue in a productive way, for the good of the industry. Before declaring death of a communications channel, let’s first look for the signs of evolution.

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