Direct Marketing Basics

Direct marketing is still effective. The hype and effectiveness of online contact get the most buzz, but it simply can’t replace directly reaching out to customers and prospects with phone calls and mail.

One big advantage direct marketing has is how it allows you to target your customers with great accuracy, making it a very cost-effective method of advertising.

Introduction to Direct Marketing

Direct marketing is any unsolicited contact you make with prospects or existing customers to makes sales, generate interest or simply raise awareness of your products or services.

The most common methods include direct mail, handouts, and telemarketing. Some advertisers include direct response mobile marketing, print ads, free-standing inserts, television and radio.

Many businesses still use direct marketing to grow their customer base, and as their major source of sales. To give you an idea whether it can help your advertising efforts, here is an overview of the basic components of direct marketing.

Database Marketing

Database marketing involves selling to customers or potential customers based on significant data profiles. Having a great deal of information on your targets makes it easier, and cheaper, to sell to them.

Another advantage is that you might have specific information about what they are interested in and what their needs and concerns are. Over time, you will accumulate helpful data that can be used effectively in your direct marketing efforts. Among these include:

  • The dates and timing of their orders.
  • How often they order.
  • What they order and in what quantities.
  • Their location, including zip code and delivery areas.
  • Demographics.

When you effectively use database marketing, you can sort and filter your customers for specific types of mailings and contact. You can also build data profiles of customers that buy from you and then use those profiles to identify sales prospects that share the profile's characteristics.

It is essential to keep your list up to date, cleaning it out by removing those individuals that are no longer active and by making appropriate changes to phone numbers and addresses. A list that is out of date is virtually useless because you waste money sending misdirected offers.

Direct Mail

Direct mail is the most common form of contact. Detractors often refer to it as junk mail, but that name does it a great disservice. It works well for B2B and B2C marketing with the right content and research.

Most mailings include a letter and inserts, like brochures about the product, order forms and often a prepaid envelope. A complete package like this gets far more response than a simple letter.

Even a quality letter and set of enclosures will not get a good response if your email list is not high caliber. Your database is the first place to start. Alternatively, check with reputable companies that offer mailing lists. The Direct Marketing Association, or DMA, is a good place to check for sources of lists.


Though telemarketers are sometimes considered verbal spam, they can be a highly effective tool for your business. Speaking directly to prospects offers several advantages, including:

  • You can gauge their level of interest and need right away.
  • You can ask questions and get immediate answers.
  • It is often easier to explain complex ideas on the phone, allowing customers to ask questions.

As a business owner, you can use telemarketing in B2B contacts with great effectiveness. It has far less stigma in business than it does at home.

You can use telemarketing in several ways:

  • Adding information to your database.
  • Setting appointments.
  • Follow through on a direct mail campaign.
  • Keeping in regular touch with your customer base.
  • Finding out why inactive customers are no longer buying.
  • Keeping abreast of industry events and news and sharing it with others.

Legal Issues and Best Practices

Unsolicited contact with people and businesses and using their contact and personal information is subject to legal and regulatory considerations. For example, if a contact opts out from receiving unsolicited phone calls or direct mail, it is unlawful to contact them this way again. The Direct Marketing Association offers a wealth of resources around legal considerations for direct marketing.

Direct marketing is an effective tool for many small businesses. It is a way to contact your prospects and customer base, gain information and get sales.

Information presented in the Northwest Financial Wellness Center is provided for educational purposes only and is not related to actual Northwest products or services. Northwest makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness or specific suitability of any information presented. Information provided should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal or tax advice. Northwest recommends you consult a professional for any specific guidance you are seeking.