Direct marketing and social media — A perfect match
By Archita Datta Majumdar

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The recession has taught us one thing — how to be frugal. It's not really a bad thing if it stops unnecessary expenditure and teaches us to save. But perhaps the best thing it teaches us is to harness emerging technologies and devise new and innovative modes of marketing that will be effective without being expensive. One bright example of this phenomenon is the use of social media for direct marketing.

Contrary to what most people think, social media is not just a direct marketing tool for smaller companies. It can work equally well for big conglomerates. Companies like Dell and Amazon were quick to jump onto the bandwagon and use tools like Twitter and Facebook to market their products, which then quickly went viral. According to CRM Magazine, Dell surpassed $2 million in sales through its Twitter feed @DellOutlet as early as 2009 and that quickly grew to $6.5 million by the end of that year.

Traditional and online marketing are expensive propositions, which made more intrepid strategists turn to social media and experiment with it as a marketing and publicity tool. The payoff has been great, and now small and big players are all geared up to include focused social media tools in their 2013-14 direct marketing budgets.

Focus should be paid on how one can leverage the enormous potential offered by social media so that there can be stronger customer engagement. It doesn't have to be a direct sales tool but can work great for building up awareness as well, depending upon the kind of business you are in, of course.

This is again something one can learn from Dell. Companies like Dell and Amazon harnessed the power of social media and benefitted even as others were scrambling to understand what it all meant. Dell has once again paved the way for innovative use of social media tools and measuring ROI, which goes beyond sales.

The poster child of "social media ROI," Dell has stopped tracking and measuring separate sales figures for their wildly successful @DellOutlet Twitter handle. This is the campaign Dell used to increase sales and awareness more than three years ago, and in the process showed the business world how to map hard cash by using a social media tool. Dell now releases combined sales figures from all of its marketing sources.

But simply using tools like Twitter for sales is not optimizing their presence enough. What companies should also do is increase brand awareness and redirect traffic back to the main site, which Dell has succeeded in doing through its social media tools.

This is a refreshing outlook among the many approaches we constantly come across. Using social media for direct marketing is an established fact. It is now time to use it as a finer marketing tool to increase brand retention and loyalty.

Direct marketing has always been a one-to-one tool that complemented the wider and more expensive one-to-many tools used by brands. It is perhaps for this reason why its marriage with social media is such a wild success.

Social media sites are a veritable goldmine of information and customer data, which further includes deeper insights, likes, hobbies, interests and even online behavior. This, along with the basic demographic data, helps companies create stronger customer profiles that ensure better information dissemination to the target audience, and hence faster sales.

The number of social media users is expected to increase from the 1.47 billion mark of 2012 to a whopping 2.55 billion by 2017. The goldmine of customer information that is social media will now be the backbone of all future direct marketing strategies. It will be used to encourage more interaction across all marketing channels, leverage the data to target customers better, make more timely splashes and ultimately drive hard sales.

Archita Datta Majumdar has been writing for various industries for more than 14 years. She has contributed articles to The Economic Times, the leading financial daily of India, and she loves research, business analysis and knowledge management, which paves the way for a steep learning curve.