I have attended more than twenty Direct Marketing Association conferences. But I gave up going to the conference two years ago after my then-company won a DMA Innovation award for a Twitter campaign at the 2011 DMA Boston event. Four years ago I posted in October of 2009 on the future of the DMA itself, nothing has happened since then to change my opinion on the ultimate demise of the DMA itself. I take no pleasure in that possibility but more for nostalgic reasons than any others.
This year’s show ended last week and like 2012 I did not attend. In truth I never ever really considered going. Several of my colleagues deeply entrenched in direct marketing inquired if I was going to ‘be in Chicago’ as if there would be no other reason to go other than to the DMA conference in mid-October which has had Chicago in the regular rotation of conference venues for many years. I told them all that I was booked with client work that week (absolutely true), and I would miss seeing them (also true) and to send my best regards to all the longtime attendees that were still attending.
After the conference ended last week I happened to run into a colleague who had attended and he told me that as recently as just a few of years ago there were 10,000 attendees at the DMA annual conference. This year the number was more like 3,000. Even if the numbers are skewed, they still indicate that the interest has dwindled. He also noted that there were very few young professionals at the conference (a fact about which everyone that attends is well aware), and there was a lot more gray hair around as a percentage of attendees than ever before.
You’ll find few greater champions of direct marketing than yours truly. I love the immediacy of direct marketing, the creative challenges associated with it and most of all the measurability of it. There are still a substantial number of extremely successful direct response focused companies. Yet in the digital age of marketing in which we all reside, it’s vitally important to understand the intersection of direct marketing as well as brand marketing principles. I don’t believe that one can any longer survive without the other.
Being a longtime direct marketer I too was much too smug in eschewing the value of brand due to the difficulties in measuring that value. I was not the only direct marketer with that attitude. At the same time brand marketers have become less dismissive of the value of direct marketing as they seem to have found a ‘secret sauce’ called campaign measurement. It remains difficult (but not impossible) to properly attribute and measure the effectiveness of brand campaigns on television, radio, outdoor, and print. But the measurement tools we use as they relate to brand campaigns are improving all the time.
Digital marketing has created the bridge between direct and brand marketing and the DMA has clearly missed that boat. At best the DMA’s own ship is taking on water and may be beyond being saved. At worst, well what’s worse than DOA?
Did you attend this year’s DMA annual conference? If so what did you think?