But direct marketers still have much to learn about the online channel and what it takes to generate response. For example, search engine marketing can put brand advertising and other forms of direct marketing into a tailspin. A consumer might see your TV ad or open your direct mail package, key your company or product name into a search engine—instead of using your trackable, personalized URL—and get back a list of all your competitors, says Liebenson.
In a similar vein, comparison shopping sites add another layer of complexity to the kind of positioning marketers and their creative allies must develop to help the product hold its own in the marketplace.
Companies are just beginning to understand how the online space affects their offline efforts. But it's clear that the Web can be used as an effective tool to research how and when people make buying decisions, say Liebenson, and then use such metrics to answer the why and what questions that lead to more targeted creative.
A recent study by the U.S. Postal Service and comScore Networks reported that direct mail, especially catalogs, greatly influences online purchases. Marketers have suspected this to be the case, even if they didn't have the back-end tracking systems to prove it.
Based on this finding and on general advertisers' enhanced interest in addressable media, Liebenson thinks that direct mail will see a revival. With the majority of the population having grown up going to their mailboxes daily in the hopes of finding something special, direct mail has the potential to continue to make strong connections with consumers—if direct marketers focus less on cost-efficiency and more on content and value. And, he adds, direct marketers might get beaten to the punch on this trend by general advertisers who are more willing to integrate direct response and brand tactics.