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Lee Odden

Direct Marketing vs Social Media Marketing

By Lee Odden     Interactive Marketing, Online Marketing, Social Media

Thanks to the response received (@gyutae @AlbertMaruggi @AnnBernard @briansolis @martinbowling) from a Twitter post (follow here) on the topic of social marketing vs direct marketing, this post invites your opinion.

In a recent strategy session, some colleagues and I were discussing a promotion where one position was to focus on a direct marketing approach and another position involved social media, networks and communities. Compared to direct marketing efforts (snail mail, DRTV, email, etc) where an offer is created based on what the company wants to sell, a social marketing effort focuses more on involving communities with creating the offer as well as promoting it.

What would a direct marketing offer in this situation look like?

  • Develop top level messaging
  • Research and build an email list
  • Acquire snail mail lists and segment
  • Create and implement a series of email offers to the list with landing pages
  • Create and implement a series of direct mail pieces
  • Setup and run PPC campaign(s) with landing pages
  • Craft story and press releases
  • Research publications for planned stories and journalists covering the topic
  • Distribute optimized press releases via wire services
  • Pitch story to industry and regional publications, editors/journalists
  • Leverage coverage from pitching as part of final email promotions
  • Solicit feedback from those signing up and use as testimonials for subsequent promotions

The list could go on and on really, depending on the budget, timeline and objectives. From the perspective of a traditional marketer, it seems pretty logical, right? It’s a straightforward marketing campaign based on developing an offer, defining a target audience and creating a series of messages intended to communicate the offer and convert. It also uses PR to augment direct marketing efforts as well as leveraging positive feedback for subsequent promotions.

While the above overview marketing plan is pretty standard, tried and tested, it runs contrary in many ways to the kind of online marketing agencies like ours are increasingly becoming committed to: Social Media Marketing.

So, what would a social media marketing focused promo plan look like as an alternative to the direct marketing promotion above? There is an assumption with a social media promotion that there is already involvement with the social communities involved – profile(s), network of friends, content submission, voting and participation.

  • Monitor discussion on social communities and networks for key conversations, keywords and topics
  • Identify top concerns relevant to what the company is promoting and develop messaging for solution
  • Identify influentials in the social communities, bloggers and authorities – ask them their opinion
  • Identify media types most often used with topics and communities – text, video, image, podcast as well platforms for communication: blog posts, comments, microblogging, status updates, social network notes, social news and bookmarking and as possible, direct messaging and IM
  • Create messaging specific to media type and platform as way of sharing information about the offer
  • Create content destinations that explain the offer and that also offer the opportunity to interact, share opinions and comments – blog posts, video, event pages on social networks (like a landing page, but focused on being informative and encouraging discussion, not salesey)
  • Reach out to influentials on a one to one basis, recognizing them for sharing their opinion, explaining the offer and your goals – ask them to join in in spreading the good word. Explain what’s in it for them and what’s in it for the community.
  • Monitor the communications that result in the most signups and provide feedback on progress
  • Offer influential bloggers a “free pass” to blog the event or a preview of what’s being offered
  • Recognize participation and contribution to reaching goals
  • Continue to engage interested participants and communities

Seems like a lot of work and possibly too complicated to a traditional direct marketer. But to those involved with social media and social communities, it’s familiar territory. Focusing on developing solutions based on what the audience wants, then involving the community in developing and promoting creates evangelists for the promotion. Recognizing participation energizes the community and can multiply the speed and breadth of message distribution, discussion and action.

Social marketing invests in social communities with useful content/solutions as well as participation and recognition. That investment delivers long term dividends far beyond a one time promotional program using direct marketing tactics.

If the budget, timeline and resources warrant it, a combination of both sets of tactics can be very appropriate. It makes no sense to ignore traditional media in favor of blogger relations for example. Conversely, there may not be time or budget to develop relationships with multiple communities.

It’s a pretty elegant promotion that involves appropriate aspects of direct response as well as social promotion as long as they are relevant and the messaging works together.

What’s your opinion? Do direct marketing and social marketing need to be at odds with each other? Are they mutually exclusive tactics? In what ways can they best work together? Examples would be very much appreciated.


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