Direct marketing refers to any marketing that has direct contact with a consumer. In a changing communication landscape, this means that social media can be defined as direct marketing activity, but, as Roger Warner of Content & Motion considers, the fundamentals remain the same: personalisation, privacy and relevance.
Direct marketing should target the right people - the advent of sophisticated spam filters means many users won't even get a glimpse of your mail shot, so you've got to give users a reasons to focus their attention. Consider whether the recipient of the message will truly find it of value - investing time, money and effort into something that will only add to the mass 'noise' already dominating the Web is not cost-effective and means you run the risk of eroding your brand. Organisations that win are those that engage in positive and useful communications with their customers and prospects. We're all bombarded on a daily basis by marketing messages, but features like the Facebook News Feed force you as an organisation to provide likeable, relevant content, based on the principle that the more engagement you get - 'likes' - the more visibility you gain.
Keep it relevant - if you've got a large database of customers, it's worth analysing what you already know about them. Use demographic tools, and personalise your mail so it resonates with your customer.
If you only remember one thing when utilising direct marketing, it's privacy: only stick to a mailing list where customers have provided their consent to receiving mail or updates from your organisation. NEVER forget the Golden Rule: it is a legal requirement to give recipients the option to 'opt-out'. Go the extra mile by making it clear how a user can unsubscribe - customer satisfaction, even of the customers you are losing, is paramount.
First, we had the website; then came email, and now we've got the Facebook Revolution. Whilst I've no doubt the communication landscape will continue to evolve, it's worth considering an analogy that Dave Kerpen (2011) provides, which nicely sums up using social media for direct marketing:
"With Facebook, you have the added advantage of performing [all of these processes] in a place where 600 million or so of your customers are hanging out. It's the idea of fishing where the fish are, rather than expecting fish to come to your boat, or in this case, your website" (p169)
Social media tools exploit man's desire to interact with his fellows, and so utilising these channels to directly market yourself to your audience - so long as you're engaging, relevant and timely - is a pretty smart move.