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Marketing Through the Ages Part III - The Birth of Direct Marketing

Up until this stage of the game, marketing wasn’t particularly well targeted to individual sectors or people. Advertising was more like a blunderbuss than a sniper rifle. It was difficult to measure how well a specific campaign did and consequently advertising campaigns were a little hit and miss. Then came the computer...

Tim Newman, Telemarketing Specialist

The Telemarketing Company

Part III - The Birth of Direct Marketing

The invention of mainframe computing didn’t herald the explosive marketing evolution you would be forgiven for predicting. TV and Radio had all been used to promote products fairly early on in their careers, the computer, however, took longer to shine. Computers initially dealt with the back-end of marketing. It was (and is) an excellent number cruncher.

Now, for the first time in history, huge reams of data (like census information) could be pored over in detail and at speed. Advertising companies working for the new and mighty industrial complexes in America could experiment with advertising campaigns and actually measure which ones were most successful. They could collate and investigate customer feedback, closing the loop ever smaller. Now, in the modern era, the loop is infinitely small and human responses can be measured in real time via Twitter, Facebook or Google Analytics.

This new ability to target, measure and re-target became known as direct marketing and is still used today to great effect.

Lester Wunderman

Born in the Bronx and educated in NYC, Lester Wunderman is often referred to as the introduced toll-free 1-800 numberfather of contemporary direct marketing; among other innovations he s and loyalty programs. And, in 1967, in a speech at MIT, he first coined the term “direct marketing”.

He started a small agency – Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline with his brother and two colleagues. They set up shop in a New York hotel and got to work. Despite having literally zero clients initially they managed to pick up $2 million in billings in their first year. The direct marketing approach was now a proven success.

The first 1-800 number was used in a Toyota campaign and it was American Express that took on the first ever loyalty program, helping them grow into the business behemoth they are today.

The Rise Of Telemarketing

In the late 70’s a new marketing tool was born. It rode in on the back of the Bell System, which provided telephone services to much of the United States and Canada from 1877 to 1984.

During the 19th century the role of telephonists, or switchboard operators, became a popular job for women. It was the first sector of industry to employ predominantly females. 

Many look upon the era of the switchboard operator as a landmark time for women’s rights and the general advancement of women in the workplace, and that seems like a fair pronouncement. At the time, however, the women were recruited, partly because they were considered to have a better phone manner, but mostly because they were cheap labour. A lady could expect to earn just 25%-50% of a male’s wage.

1920S Switchboard

Today, telemarketing is generally a unisex affair and used widely across all sectors. Like all of the marketing methods throughout history, it has seen massive improvements thanks to technology and, of course, the experience of ages. It mixes modern technological advancements in systems, data collation and telephony campaigns to impressive effect. One of the most flexible and measurable channels, it combines human engagement with a direct, data-led approach that brings a solid return on investment.

The modern marketing universe includes all of the methods discussed here today and much, much more. The digital age, after all, has revolutionised pretty much every single facet of our existence. It’s difficult to see beyond the internet, TV and telephony phases of marketing. What could possibly come next?

Ironically, in our shining modern era the sheer volume and scale of information available through new technologies, has forced us to revert to some of our old preferences, including images, not too dissimilar to the posters and images used in the early days. With the huge reams of written information available at each and every fingertip, pictorial summaries are a must. Although they are much less blatant in their message, infographics really can be seen as the shop signs of the 21st century.

So as for what is next, personally, I am fascinated with imagining what the future will hold. Technological developments will certainly play a role…

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