Direct Marketing: What It Is and How to Get Started

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about direct marketing and how your business can use it. Discover the different types and examples of direct marketing.

[Featured image]: Direct marketing team is going over strategies for a new campaign.

To be successful in this career, you’ll need to know the most suitable types of direct marketing for your campaign, whether it’s the right approach for your products or service, and how to execute it effectively.

What is direct marketing?

Direct marketing is a type of communication where companies target pre-selected customers and provide a method for them to directly respond to the company. It is sometimes called direct response marketing.

Businesses send messages directly to customers through email, text messages, or direct mail. It’s a way to reach customers without using traditional and often costly media channels such as television or radio. In contrast, advertising is marketing to the masses with targeted messaging.

What is the goal of direct marketing?

The main goal of direct marketing is to generate leads and drive sales through direct contact with customers. Direct marketing seeks to elicit an immediate response from consumers to generate sales activity. 


Types of direct marketing

Many types of direct marketing techniques exist, each with its characteristics. Research and understand your choices to know where to start. Use the following direct marketing options to help decide which technique fits your business needs.


Direct marketing through brochures is an effective way to reach your target audience. You can use brochures to promote your products or services and to provide information about your company. Brochures are typically more effective than letters since it includes images and information written in small sections. 


Catalogs are another type of direct marketing tool that’s common for retail businesses. You can use catalogs to promote your full product range and to attract motivated buyers. Customers can choose and order products from online or printed catalogs. 


Fliers are a cost-efficient way to reach potential customers who might not be familiar with your company. Fliers can be handed out at events, public places, or mailed to your target audience. You can use fliers to build brand awareness in a regional market, targeting specific geographical areas or communities.


Newsletters are an excellent way to update past and potential customers on what’s new with your company. You can use newsletters to sell products to a specific market segment and gain repeat sales.


Postcards are an affordable way to interact with a large pool of prospects. You can use postcards for individual products or to attract customers to a company website or physical address. Common purposes for postcards are grand openings, real estate transactions, or new product promotions.


Coupons are an excellent way to encourage potential customers to try your products or services. This technique enhances the customer’s desire to save money by making purchases. You can use coupons in direct marketing campaigns and include them in other marketing materials, such as newsletters and fliers.


Email campaigns are highly customizable, making them very effective for reaching your audience with the right message. You can also build email schedules and automate follow-ups. This can be an inexpensive way to reach thousands of potential buyers.

Phone calls

Phone calls can be effective for reaching potential customers who might not be familiar with your company. However, use phone calls judiciously–too many calls from your business will likely hassle customers, making them less likely to do business with your company in the future. 

Phone calls can also be a great way to follow up with customers after purchasing or enquiring about your products or services.

Direct marketing vs. indirect marketing: what's the difference?

Direct marketing involves directly communicating with potential customers, usually through personal means such as phone calls, emails, or face-to-face interactions. Indirect marketing uses indirect means to reach potential customers, such as television commercials or print advertisements. 

Direct marketing is targeted, specific, and measured by ROI. Indirect marketing focuses more on improving brand recognition as part of an integrated marketing campaign, and the returns can be less quantifiable.

Is social media marketing direct or indirect?

Social media marketing can be a great way to directly reach your target audience with specific messaging. You can also use it to indirectly connect with potential customers and create recognition around your brand. Therefore, social media can be a direct or indirect marketing tool. 


How does direct marketing work?

The first step in direct marketing is identifying your target audience through market research and analytics. Once you know who you want to reach, you can determine how to segment the marketing prospects and the best way to reach each group.

Once you decide on your method of communication, you need to create a message that grabs the attention of your target audience and gets them to take action. The last step is to track your results to see what's working and make changes as necessary.

ROI of direct marketing

Direct marketing can be an effective way to reach target audiences with a high degree of accuracy. According to the Data and Marketing Association, businesses see as high as 112 percent return on investment (ROI) on direct mail marketing campaigns. HubSpot estimates a $42 return on every $1 spent on an email marketing campaign, which is a 4,200 percent ROI [1].


Components of a direct marketing campaign

To have a successful campaign, be sure to include the following five elements:

  • Your offer is what you're giving to your customers or prospects in exchange for their attention. It could be a discount, a freebie, or something else entirely. Regardless of it, make sure it appeals to your target audience.

  • Your list is who you're going to send your offer to. It could be a list of customers, prospects, or a combination. Have a good mix of people on your list to gauge who's most interested in your offerings.

  • Your creative is how you will present your offer to your list. Determine the form of your offerings through an email, postcard, or brochure. Get creative and brainstorm how to market your message across that grabs attention and gets results.

  • Your call to action should be clear and concise. Call to action should suggest to your target audience what they should do with your product or service. A strong call to action will help your campaign reach its goals.

  • Your tracking process is how you're going to measure the success of your campaign. You’ll want to consider what metrics will be used, how many sales were made, and how many leads were generated.

Keep track of your progress to adjust your strategy regularly and ensure your next campaign is even more successful than this one.

Discover more about direct marketing

Many resources available online can help you learn about marketing. Consider the popular Google Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate for a deep dive into digital marketing and e-commerce from a reputable company. You'll learn marketing techniques and skills that you can apply to your career.

Article sources

  1. HubSpot. “The Ultimate List of Email Marketing Stats for 2023,” Accessed January 4, 2024.

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