The shift from traditional to digital marketing tactics and channels is now a firmly-established reality.  In a recent presentation for the Direct Marketing Association, Winterberry Group said that from 2007 through 2009, spending on several categories of digital marketing grew at compound annual growth rates that exceeded 10%.  Over the same period, spending on direct mail fell at an annual rate of 10.7%, and spending on print advertising declined by almost 20% per year.  For 2011, Winterberry Group expects spending on digital marketing to increase about 21% compared to 2010, while spending on direct mail might be up 1-4%.

This trend is more than a disparity in growth rates.  The evidence shows that digital marketing is growing at the expense of traditional marketing methods, including direct mail.  In a recent survey by Forrester Research, 60% of marketers said they would fund increases in their digital marketing budget by taking money from traditional marketing programs.  Forty percent of the survey respondents said they expect to cut direct mail spending.

The move away from direct mail reflects a growing belief that digital marketing methods are essential to creating engagement with today's Internet-savvy prospects.  It's also based on a perception that direct mail has become a less effective and efficient marketing tool.

No one doubts that digital marketing techniques are here to stay.  They're already important for many companies, and they will become even more important in the future.  But many of the current perceptions about the effectiveness of direct mail are simply wrong.  In reality, numerous research studies have shown that many potential buyers still prefer to receive marketing messages via direct mail over digital marketing alternatives.  For marketing service providers who are involved with direct mail, the challenge is how to persuade an increasingly skeptical audience that direct mail can still be a valuable part of the marketing mix.

One key to building a compelling business case for direct mail is to avoid being seen by your prospects and customers as a channel cheerleader.  I suspect we all know a few channel cheerleaders.  These are marketing service providers who usually specialize in one marketing channel or tactic and who tend to see that channel or tactic as the best solution for almost every marketing issue or challenge.  The problem is, once you're viewed as a channel cheerleader, your credibility is reduced, and your prospects/customers will give less consideration to your recommendations.

The right way to make the business case for direct mail is to first establish yourself as an objective marketing advisor, as someone who will base recommendations solely on what you believe will work best for your prospective client in any given situation.  Then, when it's appropriate, you can point to a growing body of evidence that demonstrates the continuing effectiveness and value of direct mail.

I've posted a new article at Scribd that uses this approach to explain why direct mail should still be part of the marketing mix for most companies.  The objective of this article is to show business marketers the value of direct mail in an objective, evidence-based fashion.  If you're a provider of direct marketing services, this should be part of your marketing message.

You can access the new article here.