Direct Marketing History

Direct to consumer (DTC) marketing is getting a lot of press these days as startup companies bypass retail channels and disrupt sleepy product categories lacking in innovation. While the DTC phrase is new, it’s just the latest spin on what firstSTREET has been doing for the last 30+ years across several channels where seniors like to shop.

Here’s a very brief history of direct response marketing, providing a perspective on how we arrived at today’s DTC explosion:

  • Scalable direct marketing concepts have been around since shortly after Johannes Gutenberg invented the first commercial printing press around 1450. Printed paper started replacing many of the “top of funnel” roles served by the shop keep or trader.
  • Aaron Montgomery Ward is considered the founder of what’s now known as direct marketing and direct mail, starting a one-page catalog and mail-order business in 1872.
  • Lester Wunderman coined the phrase ‘direct marketing’ in 1967. He pioneered many of the core concepts still used today, including direct response magazine ads, A/B statistical testing and loyalty programs.
  • Subsequent technological advances (computers, cable TV, the internet and ‘big data’) have all been adapted to improve the reach and effectiveness of DTC.
    • Mainframe computers gave rise to efficient database management and simple data analysis at scale. Direct mail, catalog circulation exploded with early insights into targeted marketing.
    • The growth of cable TV channels and home installations made direct response television, or DRTV, available to many marketers at a reasonable cost.
    • The internet quickly evolved into the greatest direct marketing medium ever known, even before ecommerce brought traditional catalogs into the digital age.
    • Most recently, Big Data has created much more precise targeting options for advertising and selling both online and offline (while creating significant privacy issues society is still resolving).

At firstSTREET, we understand our business is built on this history of innovation. We’ve kept pace with the industry, while also understanding that many in our target audience have not changed their personal shopping preferences. Take another look at our DTC channels in this light – it’s about serving the customer as they desire rather than just using the most efficient technological process.