Rethinking Direct Marketing

With tried-and-true having grown outdated and ineffective, here are cutting-edge strategies

Direct marketing used to be all about direct mail. Just a few short years ago, the CMP exam still queried planners on the traditional mail-drop dates for the "save-the-date" postcard, the official invite, the event brochure, the program guide and the reminder postcard. Now that web-based direct marketing offers immediate digital satisfaction, yesterday's direct-marketing techniques no longer seem quite so de rigueur.

Digital marketing (which includes e-mail blasts, blogs, banner ads, etc.) has prompted many companies large and small to go completely paperless for their marketing needs. The changes were inevitable: Printing and mailing is expensive, slow and anything but green.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, these new high-tech marketing tactics partner beautifully with "vintage" direct marketing techniques like telemarketing and broadcast faxes.

In another twist, marketing channels that once were considered "indirect" are now direct and vice-versa. For example, social networking sites can fall under either category, depending on how they are used. Are you planting static content (a banner ad, for example) or encouraging content (using dynamic tools such as a blog entry) to move around organically via the members? This topsy-turvy fusion of the new and the old has created a whole new fashion in direct marketing.

To ensure you're embracing the trend and not falling behind the pack, the following is a guide to the ins and outs, and even the future, of direct marketing styles and techniques.

Direct Mail
Out: anything printed on paper, even if you are using soy ink. In: going completely paperless with your materials (that means even putting the program guide on CD). Coming soon: eliminating CDs; allowing attendees to download password-protected materials prior to the program and/or on site.

E-mail Marketing
Out: managing databases, attendee lists and invites in-house. In: hiring a third-party expert to manage all of the above. Coming soon: sending e-mail with high-definition video links, rather than static content.

Broadcast Faxes

Out: faxing the same content sent in the e-mail blast. In: fax blasts of complementary material. Coming soon: fax blasts with custom material, sent by a specialized third party.

Out: one-size-fits-all telemarketing tactics. In: targeted "courtesy" calls made to past attendees or to new target markets. Coming soon: personalized calls from senior executives sent directly to attendees' voice mail.

Out: day passes or early-bird discounts. In: group discounts, special extras, such as online-only content, for paid attendees. Coming soon: travel discounts and other arrangements covered by the sponsor.

Guerilla Marketing
Out: advertising events via flyers, posters and other outdoor media (buses, billboards). In: "super" viral mar­keting creating compelling content that is picked up and shared person-to-person via social networking websites. Coming soon: irreverent creativity.

For example, to promote a pharmaceutical conference targeting medical students, you might buy a bench ad, but rather than choosing to promote your message at a bus stop, park the bench in the courtyard of the local medical school. Set it up with props to double as a cot for weary students to rest their heads and at the same time learn about your event and register to attend.

Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, is a meeting and event consultant based in San Carlos, Calif.