The Difference Between Direct and Indirect Marketing


Marketing is an essential part of the modern business landscape. According to the American Marketing Association (AMA) Board of Directors, Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. Essentially, marketing is all about creating and communicating the value of a product/service/brand to others.

When you think of “marketing”, the first thought that pops into your head might be that of a TV commercial. While that is certainly an element of marketing, the role of marketing itself goes much deeper than that.

Professional marketing can be broken down into two different categories: direct and indirect marketing. Each category shares the same overall responsibility (communicating value to others) but each goes about it in vastly different ways. If you work in business or aspire to work in marketing, it’s important to know the difference between the two.

Direct Marketing

Direct Marketing: The total of activities by which the seller directs efforts to a target audience using one or more media (direct selling, direct mail, telemarketing, direct-action advertising, catalog selling, cable selling, etc.)

Essentially, when a company communicates directly to the individual consumer in a one-to-one manner, it can be considered direct marketing. Some examples of direct marketing include:

  • Direct selling
  • Direct mail/ catalog
  • Email marketing
  • Telemarketing

On the surface, this appears a bit contradictory. A general email blast might seem impersonal and therefore, not direct. However, in cases of email blasts and physical mailers, the company is communicating directly to an individual via their email address or regular address. For example, if I send an email notification to my subscribers regarding new content, that is considered direct marketing because it is addressed to individuals who have personally subscribed.

Pros of direct marketing:

  • Direct marketing allows you to create a personal connection with the prospect
  • Direct marketing can generate more qualified leads, increasing the ROI (return on investment)
  • Direct marketing is usually less expensive because it’s more targeted to a select audience

Cons of direct marketing:

  • The scope of a message is limited
  • It can sometimes come off as an intrusion of privacy or annoying

Indirect Marketing

Indirect Marketing: The total of activities by which the seller markets without one-on-one communication directly. Indirect marketing is usually considered the “media” approach. Some examples of indirect marketing include:

  • Digital/Internet marketing
  • Guerilla marketing
  • Viral marketing
  • TV, newspaper, radio commercials
  • Billboard advertising
  • Retail Merchandising

Generally, if a message is broadcasted to a large randomized audience, it’s considered to be indirect.

Pros of indirect marketing:

  • Indirect marketing allows for companies to reach a large number of people
  • It increases the chance of educating brand new prospects/leads who were previously unaware of your product/service
  • Indirect marketing is more cost-effective in terms of total audience-to-dollars

Cons of indirect marketing:

  • There is no personal connection with prospects in a large-scale broadcasted message
  • While it’s more cost-effective in terms of audience-to-dollars, it’s usually more expensive because of the large scope
  • There’s a good chance your message will be wasted on those who are not qualified or interested in your product/service

Which one is better?

Direct and indirect marketing are two sides of the same coin. To say that one is better than the other would be similar to saying that a good sales pitch is better than skillful objection handling. At the end of the day, a company needs both direct and indirect efforts to succeed in the modern business environment.



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Author: Jason Karaman

Hello! I’m a marketing, sales, and customer service author, blogger and doer. I live in the South Carolina Lowcountry with my wife. I enjoy reading, writing, hiking, kayaking, and all things beach. For media inquiries, send an email to

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