Direct vs Non-Direct Marketing

You have to learn to master the push and pull of marketing and use them both simultaneously

One more thing from Rand Fishkin’s Lost and Founder – he calls out two types of calls-to-action (CTAs):  the”Direct CTA” and the “Transitional CTA”.

They correlate to the two types of marketing that you have to master in your own business;  you might call them the Yin and Yang of marketing.

Some of the other ways people have described this dichotomy:

Or you can just call it, “Non-Direct Marketing”, since we probably won’t ever coalesce around one term the way we have with, “Direct Marketing”.

Whatever you call them, these are very similar frameworks. But there are nuanced differences in the business-to-business world. 

 Direct MarketingNon-Direct Marketing
Independent consultants & solopreneurs
1 to 5 people, less than 1 million ARR

Book a meeting / buy something online

Podcast, newsletter, book, webinar series, blog, research studies

Established niche businesses and Series B/C/D+ startups
100 or fewer people / 10 million or less in ARR
Book a meeting / buy, demo or trial something onlineNarrow ad campaign, whitepapers, research
2000 or fewer people, 500 million or less in ARR
Book a meeting / buyNarrow ad campaign, whitepapers, research
10’s of thousands of people, billions in ARR, brand name recognition
Book a meeting / buyGlobal ad campaign. white papers, research

As you can see, all agree on what Direct means – something leading to a specific transaction. This is usually buying, donating, trialing/demo’ing, or talking about doing so. This is the Yang of marketing – it’s active and has heat.

To continue an imperfect and blasphemous metaphor, if direct CTAs are Yang, transitional CTAs are Yin.

They don’t ask you to transact; they ask you to transition your thinking through reading, listening, or watching.

Non-direct marketing materials often have no CTA. Case in point: Deloitte’s airport advertisements consisting of dramatically empty space and fairly banal concepts, such as, “luck has nothing to do with success”.

"Success? Luck Has Nothing To Do With It" [Click 'enable images' to see this image]
There’s no direct call-to-action in this extremely expensive global ad campaign. 

There’s an implied transitional call-to-action, though.

Of what does the transition consist?

Shifting the perception of Deloitte from a staid consulting behemoth to a shrewd tech firm. The audience for these ads is at the intersection of corporate-minded and engineering-minded. The ads evoke a command line and build on a smart name change – the brand’s name swapped the highly problematic “& Touche” for a very edgy dot:


There’s also a nerdy number sequence puzzle built into this particular ad: 11,8,24,18,21,? (If anyone knows what this is, please let me know – curious!).

The desired shift in thinking that Deloitte’s de facto “transitional CTA” calls for might not happen right away though. And it doesn’t happen because of the ad – it happens because of the reading, watching, and listening that happens after the ad’s audience engages with Deloitte’s digital presence.

So the transitional CTA is implied and happens over a long period of time and involves a change in perception.

We independent expertise firms can also ask our audience to read, watch, and listen – the important part.

However, can’t mount global non-direct marketing campaigns through paid advertising.  We have to find a different “top of funnel”.

My best,