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Toward the 22nd Century
Sep 15, 2005 12:00 PM , BY MITCHELL A. LIEBER
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This essay on the future of direct marketing was the winning entry in a competition held by the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing to help celebrate CADM's 50th anniversary.

LET'S JOURNEY TO DIRECT marketing's future. Ideas born at the dawn of the 21st century seem embryonic when viewed after their full expression decades later as the 22nd century approaches. DM has morphed from direct marketing to data marketing. DM now drives retail as well as direct. Marketing messages are immediate, constant and at the consumer's fingertips, but filtered by pre-set consumer preferences. Media, geo-marketing and search have undergone huge transformations.


Consumers are always reachable via personal communicators that deliver video, audio and text. These devices, successors to the Web and BlackBerry cell phones, are embedded in clothing (like the Scott eVest, which has a solar panel to charge your phone and a “personal area network” cord conduit system), or body (such as ID chips). These can heavily filter marketing messages by pre-set interests, such as, for 5 p.m. Tuesday:

  • Baby gift (two miles).

  • Flowers (one mile).

  • Southern Italian restaurant (three miles).

  • Jazz (four miles).

  • Sports tickets (Chicago area).

These interests are entered into the communicator effective for a year, month, week, day, hour or even minute. They extend e-mail filtering to all messages, including geo-text messages generated by retail businesses. Communications are also filtered based on distance from one's exact location at any moment, shown as (X miles).

Martin Baier's 20th-century innovation of ZIP code marketing has been transformed into geographic marketing based not only on where people live, but also on where they are at a particular moment.

Personal calls also are filtered for the 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. time period. For example: Allow — Calls from personal list 1, business list 3.

The descendants of navigation devices in vehicles are robotic personal concierges with search capabilities. Much like communicator filtering, consumers program what they need, how close it must be and their deadline. The device then finds it for them. A family traveling the Interstate on a hot day craves ice cream and enters the search term. They see a map of ice cream shops along their route with distances from the exit. The name of each shop, specials and sales are available at the touch of a button. The family can make a selection and reroute there, or ask to be reminded each time they approach an exit near an ice-cream shop. Listings are pay-per-click. This new type of search becomes as important to retail business as Web searches and Yellow Page listings were in 2005.

Predictive modeling reaches new heights, merging demographic, lifestyle and individual preferences and buying histories with geographic location histories. The new models consider:

  • Who, with what characteristics and buying history, is where and when.

  • Who, with what characteristics and buying history and at what geographic proximity, will buy.


Information-based DM has shifted from direct to data marketing because it's used both for direct sales and retail. Prada's early 21st century radio-frequency ID clothing that recognizes customers and “pops” their database record as they enter the store is commonplace, but as then, sales clerks require training to better use this data.

Some stores allow consumers to examine and try products. Routine questions are answered through automated expert-system knowledge bases for each product accessed by touch-screen or speech recognition. In a pinch, consumers ask for a live contact-center agent. The purchase is usually made on-screen or via speech. Orders are delivered, or retrieved from the warehouse and handed to the customer as they leave the store. This business model reduces labor costs and helps consumers get lower prices.


Media is changed, too. Newspapers download to flexible, cloth-like screen journals that can display video and links to more details. Ads feature e-mail and phone response through the touch of a virtual button on the LCD “paper.” Some 1,000 radio and TV channels are available with most songs, music videos, TV series episodes and movies available whenever users want them. Commercials are integrated into on-demand programs or access screens to reach these viewers.

Products sport embedded advertising-communication systems. E-mail devices in cars ask if you'd like to schedule your regular service with the dealer, give you choices for times and send the message to the dealer to set the appointment. They also sell accessories. Bicycles, home HVAC systems and other products are similarly “connected.”

Embedded communication isn't limited to machines. Bluetooth headsets were just the beginning at the turn of the last century. Personal communicators placed in clothing feature voice-command capabilities, mini-keyboards literally “up your sleeves,” and screens built into eyeglasses. The always-in-touch human begins to resemble a creature like one of the Borgs from “Star Trek.” Three-dimensional holographic projections literally bring advertising into the room, with clothing and other items modeled in multiple dimensions and celebrity endorsers appearing as in real life when they deliver the call to action.

Again hearkening to “Star Trek,” e-mails are video mail. The home entertainment center's big screen accesses all media from holograms and digital TV to the Web and video phones. Web chat, text messaging and instant messaging have converged. Multichannel and at-home shopping generate more sales volume than pure retail.


More business is global, with manufacturing, ordering/service and marketing often located in different countries. Distribution locations are on several continents. New monetary standards make international transactions easier and more secure. Improved computer-based translation software fosters worldwide ordering by computer and speech recognition.


Although there are new media and new ways to reply, DM continues to be about 50% list/media, 25% offer and 25% creative. Amid vast changes, some principles don't change.

Of course, the innovations and world described here are old news in 2099. These were in place decades earlier, many by 2054 for Chicago DM Days 100.

DM in 2099 was truly inconceivable in 2005. Could Messrs. Sears and Ward have foreseen catalogs created with a computer and viewed instantly by buyers around the world via the Web? Probably not, since the earliest electronic computer was invented decades after their passing. However, each generation of data (or direct) marketers infuse their work with imagination that each day brings the future closer.

MITCHELL A. LIEBER is president of Lieber and Associates, Chicago.

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