As a young designer fresh out of school, I assumed direct marketing only involved direct mail. For me, they were easily interchanged synonyms. In my mind direct marketing meant designing repetitive letters and postcards with little design aesthetic. Because of this, I shied away from positions with direct marketing agencies. I wanted to work for ad agencies or design studios where design was king. Develop high concept pieces with a catchy slogan. Look out "Just do it," I'm coming for you. Ah youth.

Having been in the design industry for over 7 years now, I've gained more insight. Had I known then what I know now, I wouldn't have passed on some earlier career experiences. So let me impart some wisdom to the millennial generation, who are just beginning their design career: Direct marketing is not direct mail.

Direct marketing is a method of marketing through advertising channels that involves:

  • Marketing directly to a specific customer or audience (target marketing).
  • Driving the customer to a call to action.
  • Tracking measurable response of the campaign.

Notice that I said "advertising channels." That's right millennial designers, not just one channel but a variety. Direct marketing is used in SMS, social media, email, video, banner ads, online tools, telemarketing, and of course, old faithful herself, direct mail. In fact, the most successful campaigns are integrated campaigns that directly market across multiple channels. This means, young creatives, that no matter what area of design you're interested in, direct marketing has a place for you.

Direct marketing offers more than various design avenues for designers. It's also a great tool for learning strategy. Since direct marketing relies on measurable results, you'll know how well your creative is reaching its intended audience, and where there's room for improvement. Understanding the strategy behind your design campaign will also set you apart from other designers.

Direct marketing also requires creatives to think outside the box. With so many messages hitting consumers every day, how do you stand out from the crowd? In direct marketing, designers are encouraged to come up with ideas and concepts that demand attention. Knowing how to problem solve and use innovation are essential skills that separate good creatives from great creatives. Direct marketing can help hone those skills.

While it may not be your ultimate career goal, I encourage the millennial generation of designers to give direct marketing a second look. It definitely has challenged me as a designer, and caused me to expand both my creative skills and marketing knowledge.

Check out the links below for examples of integrated, multichannel campaigns.

MBUSA Responsive Campaign - Jacobs & Clevenger
Honda Editorial Campaign - Jacobs & Clevenger
Cruise Control - Jacobs & Clevenger