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What’s in a name? Well, if you believe the digital versus direct debate that has been raging in the marketing industry recently, the answer would be ‘a hell of a lot’!

On the one hand, digital agencies are criticised for being overly focused on a channel, whereas the ‘direct’ guys sit across different channels but are tainted with a historical focus on spammy practices and tactics.

For me, many of these arguments are futile because, across the entire marketing industry, there are still far too many, working in both fields, who think the job is merely about telling an audience that a particular brand or product is for them.

It’s all about data

At the heart of this is the way marketers use data. In the past, direct marketing used data as a way to find people to ‘push’ marketing collateral at.

But the internet has changed the goalposts and has given marketers a phenomenal opportunity to use data to target and engage. In a digital world the key to success rests in understanding the basics of human consumption and communication.

In order to most effectively influence a group of people, you don't target them and pick them off one-by-one - you engage with them, willingly on their part.

A two-way flow

Moving away from the realm of one-way communications is crucial and that is why the whole idea of ‘direct’ marketing seems misplaced – it suggests shouting rather than listening.

Success instead rests in helping your audience - not leading or directing them. If they have to be led, it needs to be their choice - not yours.

So to turn back to the digital versus direct debate, to suggest that digital agencies choose to define themselves by a channel shows a lack of understanding of what it is that successful digital agencies deliver for their clients - time after time.

'Effective Digital' is not about channel but about meeting the audience with a message they want to hear, through the media that works for them.


To deliver success the importance of listening increases as the balance of power in communications shifts from being top-down to bottom-up, and that is often a hard thing for brands to grasp.

To deliver effective campaigns in contemporary consumer environments - often digital by circumstance and consumer preference – brands need to engage members of the selective audience as willing participants through the process of development and execution - whether that be a broad corporate website or short-term communication or acquisition campaign.

So rather than debating labels we, as an industry, need to start preaching about the new digital opportunities. And then start practicing what we preach!


Published 30 September, 2011 by Rob McLeod

Rob McLeod is Head of Planning at Realise Digital and a guest blogger on Econsultancy. 

8 more posts from this author

Comments (2)


Erin Geoghegan

This couldn't be more true! Great post

about 5 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

Hear, hear!

about 5 years ago

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