Direct Marketing's Growth During the Past 10 Years
[Editor's Note: This is the first article in an eight-part, weekly series.]
As I always do when reporting a story, I let the facts speak for themselves. I decided to take a look at the evolution of direct marketing during the past decade and, I will admit, the results did surprise me. What you'll see during the next seven weeks is a trip through what's happened in this space. I welcome any comments and, if you think I left something out, please say so.
Today's article will take a high-level look at what's going on, mostly through benchmarks detailed by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). The rest of the series will go more in-depth, with closer looks at media fragmentation; the explosion of marketing channels; examples of direct marketers who see all this change as an opportunity; a look at a specific industry that's quite familiar with Darwinism (my first love, print journalism); changes in traditional direct marketing channels, such as direct mail; the proliferation of trade associations (I'm looking at you, SEMPO); and how it all comes together.
It should be a fun ride.
What I expected to find while researching this series was direct marketing sales and expenditures growing exponentially during the past decade, as well as an historic high of direct surpassing brand. What I found was direct has long dominated mass marketing, and sales and expenditures basically held steady. What did change during the past decade was the variety of channels direct marketers picked for their spend.
Yes, they chose a lot of "digital" (as today's with-it marketers like to say), but that most certainly didn't rule out traditional channels. For instance, DMA research shows U.S. catalog sales went from $118 billion in 2002 to $128.6 billion in 2012. That's while marketers were spending $17.7 billion on direct mailing catalogs in 2012, down from $20.1 in 2006, according to the "DMA 2013 Statistical Fact Book." This may be the outcome of direct marketers following the advice of direct mail thought leaders, who have been saying "mail smarter" for years. It could also be the cumulative effect of integrated marketing across channels.
For instance, both sales and revenue are increasing online. DMA found $651.9 billion in Internet ad-driven sales in 2012 accounted for more than 25 percent of the year's $2.05 trillion direct marketing-driven sales in the United States. That happened with $32.5 billion in outlay. (These figures don't even include the $1.2 billion spent on mobile advertising, which generated $14 billion in sales in 2012, also according to the DMA Fact Book.) Today's online direct marketing sales dwarf the $30 billion collected in 2002—when overall sales exceeded $2 trillion. (The graph, at right, shows direct marketing-driven sales from 2002 until 2012 did go on a bit of a rollercoaster ride, but returned to the same level.)
So it makes intuitive sense that direct is seeing its glory days, right? While that may be true for many marketers, the discipline's success is actually not at its historical high—even in relatively recent years.
Direct marketing-related ad expenditures accounted for 48 percent of overall U.S. marketing spend in 2006. But DMA research shows that number had been 57 percent in 1998 and 1999, 56.5 percent in 2000, and still at 55 percent in a 2002 DMA report.
Direct marketing's percentage of all U.S. ad expenditures did climb back up after 2006. "The Power of Direct Marketing, 2011-2012 Edition" says the percentages hit 51.3 in 2010, 52.1 in 2011 and 52.7 in 2012.
So what does any of this mean for direct marketers? Stay tuned.