What Is ‘Traditional’ Direct Marketing, Anyway?

[Editor’s Note: This is the sixth article in an eight-part, weekly series.]

Show me a direct marketer who doesn’t have a copy of “Being Direct” by Lester Wunderman on his shelf, and I’ll show you a marketer who calls e-tailing “traditional.”

Cue Tevye: “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as … as … as a fiddler on the roof.”

OK, so quoting “Fiddler on the Roof” may be a bit much, as we’re not in a shtetl in Tsarist Russia. But the point is valid—what is traditional and what is new? Is tradition relative? Does tradition inform the new?

During the past decade, email marketing’s come to be called “traditional” and direct mail positively ancient by “digital” marketers who view social media marketing as the new yenta in the shtetl. SMM can fix companies up with consumers, they say.

While they’re right, the old-school tactics still work and, I would argue, inform the successful aspects of the new. For instance, mobile marketers didn’t invent the call to action.

Aspects of the new inform the old. Direct mail marketers didn’t invent the PURL. Henry Ford didn’t invent crowdsourcing. (But his company sure uses it now.)

New and old channels, and zeitgeist and traditional marketing can blend together to work quite well.

So why all the arguing? Why all the effort to avoid labeling something as “direct” or even “marketing”? (I’m thinking of you, SMM marketers who call yourselves “communications professionals.”) This is where direct marketers and today’s marketers—whether you call yourselves new media, content marketers, digital marketers, communications professionals or some other name—can come together and break down the silos you keep talking about breaking down.

Then you can integrate channels, learn new tactics, and start picking on the database marketers who now call themselves “Big Data professionals.” But I wouldn’t. After all, you need them. They need you. You all need each other in order to be successful. Or at least you need each other’s skills, whether they’re traditional or new.

Heather Fletcher is senior content editor with Target Marketing.

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