Inbound is Hot, but Direct Response Marketing is Still a Proven Revenue Booster

Technology has brought about a lot of changes in the last few years. It’s changed the way we consume knowledge, shop, and even our styles of communication. As our digital devices increased in power, so did our ability to tap into and control the flow of data streaming at us.

In the marketing game, ad blocking and skipping tools have upended classic methods of reaching consumers. Instead of looking for ways to interrupt people to share a message, many brands are putting new focus on inbound, permission-based marketing.

So, it’s with good reason that branded content, search engine marketing, and other opt-in approaches are getting a lot of attention today. At the same time, direct marketing, one of the oldest and most proven marketing strategies is still earning its keep — and learning a few new tricks of its own. On top of that, many of the new breed of channels, like Instagram and Snapchat, are quickly adding on tools for brands to market and sell directly to customers in app.

Clearly, there’s still value in talking directly to your audience and making and ask.

Don’t Delay

Direct marketing is also known as direct response because it includes a request to the viewer to reply in some way to the material they are interacting with. Anything from a TV infomercial to an outdoor billboard that asks you to “Call Now!” would apply.

There are all manner of direct response marketing channels. Some like catalogs, fliers, and direct mailings have been on the wane in our increasingly paperless world. Others, like email marketing, text-messaging, and direct response web landing pages, are only growing in importance.

Contrary to popular belief, however, legacy formats are still tops in response rate for several key channels. Notably, a 2017 study by the Direct Marketing Association found that direct mail’s 4.4% response rate is ten to thirty times that of email, where rates in the tenths of a percent are considered normal. Despite meager response rates, email marketing continues to grow because it’s so cost effective, functions 24/7, and gives you access to extra sources of data, like click-throughs. It also allows for much narrower targeting.

Direct Response vs. Brand Building

Though the techniques and channels may differ, the goal of all direct marketing is to promote products or services to consumers in an explicitly measurable way. Unlike brand building activities, the objective of direct response campaigns isn’t to just raise awareness, stimulate engagement, and creative positive associations in the minds of consumers.

Rather, direct marketers are aiming for provable and countable responses. Awareness and engagement must be measured obliquely, but a direct response is a clear signal. If you send out a thousand messages and two hundred people follow the call to action, you have a verifiable response rate of 20%

Choosing whether to devote a limited marketing budget on brand building or direct response often comes down to how well established your firm or brand is. A mega brand like Coca-Cola, for example, is almost entirely focused on branding.

Coke isn’t trying to get people to buy a six pack this very second. It is nurturing an emotional attachment to its product that will translate into continuous sales through the years, and to keep their brand top of mind over Pepsi and other entrenched competitors.

Inducing Action

Less well-known brands devote more of their resources to generating leads, creating sales opportunities, building a customer base, and driving revenue before going all in on brand building.

There are five key factors that determine the effectiveness of a direct marketing effort:

  1. Value Proposition
  2. Offer Attractiveness
  3. Communication Style
  4. Segmentation and Targeting
  5. Choice of Channel

When all five come together you get a worthy product, sold at a tempting price, promoted in a compelling format, to an audience inclined to be interested in it, on the medium they are comfortable with. In other words: an offer they can’t refuse.

Creativity is another important factor. Persuasive copywriting and quality graphic design play a crucial role in motivating audiences to not just bother to notice your message, but to take the next step and actually follow through on your call to action.


Though inbound marketing is the wave of the future, there will always be a place for good, old-fashioned direct connections with customers.

Plus, thanks to the same internet technologies that are propelling the growth of inbound marketing, direct response isn’t all that old-fashioned any more. It’s now loaded with its own feature-rich capabilities like incredible tracking to know which ad on which channel spurred a response and exceptionally measurable campaigns that can show in hard numbers how many leads, sales, or other conversion events are resulting from those interactions.

At the end of the day, it isn’t a question of inbound or direct response. Every company and brand must balance its resources to achieve the goals of both: a wide, attractive top of the marketing funnel that draws people in and fosters long term successes, and a sophisticated, well-engineered, down-funnel direct response program that provides real benefits today.