Direct vs. Indirect Marketing: which one leads to more sales?


4 min read

1. What is direct marketing? But indirect marketing?

Direct and indirect marketing are promotional methods that involve different marketing channels marketers and salespersons use to make a product or service known, establish communication with potential clients or generate conversions and sales.

Smith & Taylor, 2005 define direct marketing as the distribution of information, products, or services through any advertising medium that invites the individual to respond directly to the advertiser.

And “indirect marketing is the process of communicating brand cues after developing recognition as a brand through direct marketing tools.” as Shehzadi, et al. (2010) states.

For instance, pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns could be considered part of a direct marketing strategy. They target people that search online for a specific product/service using keywords that match different types of paid ads. Most people don’t recognize the ads and they are tempted to purchase the product/service promoted through the Google or Facebook advertising platforms. So, the paid ads come to meet directly the needs and wants of people when they display a particular behavior online.

If the public buys or not the product advertised online, it depends a lot on the paid strategy: how the advertiser builds the ad and communicates the message, the most suitable channel for the audience that’s targeted, budget involved, etc..

Indirect marketing, part of the promotional mix, brings companies' products in front of their consumers through word of mouth, social media, newsletters, videos, e-books, or PR.

Marketers use indirect marketing after they made the brand known to the public through direct marketing and wish to maintain its interest alive, reach customer satisfaction and build loyalty.

2. Why is direct marketing helpful for marketers?

Organizations see direct marketing as an indispensable element of marketing communication. It is used to connect with customers, find out their opinions, impressions about a specific product, sell and improve it to obtain total customer satisfaction.

To beat the competition, marketers keep an eye on customers' responses and suggestions about the product. They assess target market feedback to make the right decision about product improvement.

However, to attract and retain customers, companies have to provide affordable and quality products/services. And implement sales promotion strategies such as discounts or BOGOF (buy one, get one free) through telemarketing or cold emailing. By connecting customers emotionally with products marketers can build and maintain strong relationships with them.

Another direct marketing tactic is door-to-door selling which can be an efficient selling technique for companies acting in domains such as NGO’s, for example.

Potential customers need to be open to conversation when the sales person approaches them face-to-face. If they like what they hear, they will give the attention and time needed to assimilate what the sales person has to offer.

The features and benefits of the products will be the ones that will turn the reaction and response of potential cutomers into positive ones.

Direct marketing involves advertising methods that support the selling process:

1. Door-to-door selling
2. Interactive consumer websites
3. Telephone selling – cold calling, telemarketing
4. Indoor & outdoor advertising
5. Online display ads
6. Catalog distribution
7. Yellow pages online & offline
8. Promotional letters
9. Mobile messaging
10. TV home-shopping channels
11. Rdio advertisement
12. Newspaper/magazines advertising
13. Fliers
14. Direct mail

3. What is the difference between direct and indirect marketing?

There is a considerable difference between direct and indirect marketing. While direct marketing involves two-way communications with consumers, indirect marketing means passive and one-way messages to a target audience.

Through direct marketing or direct selling, marketers interact directly with the target market to convey a specific message about a new company/product/service and foster a positive behavioral response from the audience.

It’s about advertising and techniques used so that the message can reach the target audience, trigger its buying behavior and generate growth for the organization.

And because the public responds better to direct marketing, marketers can gain valuable insights about online campaigns, landing pages and how engaged are potential clients with the product/service and content.

Google Analytics provides all these details about paid/organic campaigns through reports where data about clickthrough rates (CTRs), the number of leads generated, conversion rates, average time spent on page can be generated and analyzed.

In this way, companies can easily evaluate the stage in which their customers are in the marketing and sales funnel: awareness, consideration, purchase, loyalty or advocacy and adjust their marketing strategies accordingly.

When approaching indirect marketing activity, marketers use symbolic representations to get customers familiar with their brands, 'position' them in their minds and stimulate buying desire.

Symbolic representations of indirect marketing:

Celebrity endorsement
Music (jingle)
Design (package, shop)

In some cases, customers can be more receptive to indirect marketing than direct marketing. This can happen especially when people get fed up with the intentions and actions of sales persons and marketers to sell their stuff. The target audience is less responsive to cold calling, online/offline ads, or direct mail and are more responsive to the product’s packaging, brand logo, or store window display.

This happens when people no longer resonate with advertising and respond well to subtle brand messages conveyed in creative ways. So, most people find online/offline ads annoying and refuse to be psychologically manipulated by a piece of media. And prefer the brands they’re familiar with that provide a sense of belonging.

However, direct marketing and indirect marketing can support each other in a harmonious way when a solid marketing strategy is developed and brings them together in a holistic approach.


To get to know your potential customers and decide which advertising methods (direct or indirect marketing or both simultaneously) to implement, advertisers and marketers need to conduct market research both offline and online.

By testing interesting strategies and exploring different possibilities, companies will discover which of the two advertising forms - direct or indirect marketing - can help them connect with their target audience and provide the intended results.

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