Direct marketing consists of any marketing that relies on direct communication or distribution to individual consumers, rather than through a third party such as mass media. Mail, email, social media, and texting campaigns are among the delivery systems used. It is called direct marketing because it generally eliminates the middleman, such as advertising media.


  • Direct marketing consists of any marketing that relies on direct communication or distribution to individual consumers, rather than through a third party such as mass media.
  • The call to action is a common factor in much of direct marketing.
  • The effectiveness of direct marketing is easier to measure than media advertising.


How Direct Marketing Works

Unlike traditional public relations campaigns pushed out through a third party such as media publications or mass media, direct marketing campaigns operate independently to directly communicate with target audiences. In direct marketing, companies deliver their messaging and sales pitches by social media, email, mail, or phone/SMS campaigns. Although the number of communications sent can be massive, direct marketing often attempts to personalize the message by inserting the recipient’s name or city in a prominent place to increase engagement.

The call to action is an essential part of direct marketing. The recipient of the message is urged to immediately respond by calling a toll-free phone number, sending in a reply card, or clicking on a link in a social media or email promotion. Any response is a positive indicator of a prospective purchaser. This variety of direct marketing is often called direct response marketing.

Targeting in Direct Marketing

A direct marketing pitch that is delivered to the widest possible audience is probably the least effective. That is, the company may gain a few customers while merely annoying all of the other recipients. Junk mail, spam email, and texting all are forms of direct marketing that many people can’t get rid of fast enough.

The most effective direct marketing campaigns use lists of targeted prospects in order to send their messages only to the likeliest prospects. For example, the lists might target families who have recently had a baby, new homeowners, or recent retirees with products or services that they are most likely to need.

Catalogs are the oldest form of direct marketing, with a history that dates back to the latter half of the 19th century.12 In modern times, catalogs are usually sent only to consumers who have indicated an interest in a previous purchase of a similar product while social media has emerged as the most modern form of direct marketing. Targeting strategies can also be used on social media when putting out ads; platforms like Facebook allow brands to choose the age, gender, demographics, and even interests of potential new audiences that an ad could reach.

Many companies engage in opt-in or permission marketing, which limits their mailing or emailing to people who have indicated a willingness to receive it. Lists of opt-in subscribers are particularly valuable as they indicate a real interest in the products or services being advertised.

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What is Direct Marketing?


The Advantages and Disadvantages of Direct Marketing

Direct marketing is one of the most popular and effective marketing tools in order to establish a direct connection with a target audience. Direct marketing has its appeal, particularly to companies on a shoestring budget who can’t afford to pay for television or internet advertising campaigns. Especially as the world becomes increasingly connected through digital platforms, social media becomes an effective way to market to customers.

The main drawback with direct marketing, however, is the profile-raising and image building that comes with a third party accrediting your brand. For example, although a company may pay for a sponsored article in The New York Times, this can greatly enhance a brand’s image and can help “seal the deal” with customers who are willing to trust a supposedly unbiased source or external opinion.

By its nature, the effectiveness of a direct marketing campaign is easier to measure than other types of advertising, since brands can analyze their own analytics, track unique source codes, and tweak strategies effectively without going through a middleman. The company can measure its success by how many consumers make the call, return the card, use the coupon, or click on the link.