Beware of the Viking Longboats

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STOCKHOLM, Sweden - In centuries past, hapless, unprepared people in Europe and North America were often startled and surprised by the sudden appearance of Viking ships. Direct marketers and organizations related to the direct marketing business in Europe and North America may need to take heed - the modern Nordic direct marketing machine is alive and well.

At the recent Nordic Direct Marketing Days, which was organized by the postal services of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland and held in Stockholm on May 6 and 7, a group of marketers from around the world made interesting presentations.

An array of domestically oriented producers of a variety of services participated in the conference's trade show. A number of agencies participated in the Nordic DM Days awards show, and a number of world-class direct marketing campaigns and programs were entered, and the winners received well-deserved honors from their peers.

Most amazing, however, was the size and scope of some of the programs discussed at the conference. Of special interest is the loyalty club started by ISO Supermarkets, a grocery chain in Denmark. While the idea of loyalty clubs is not new, it is not well developed in the grocery and supermarket business anywhere in the world, and it is certainly not done nearly as well as the club ISO Supermarkets has put together.

Peter Midtgaard, the director of finance of ISO Supermarkets, shared the company's success story with the attendees. It certainly demonstrates a world-class effort on the part of a top-flight, innovative organization.

A giant Swedish oil company has 1.8 million credit card holders, including 1.1 million actives - a ratio most Western oil companies would be delighted to experience. While this is a sizable organization, the penetration rate is staggering when compared to the total number of households. They have also entered into some very aggressive cross-selling efforts of insurance and related products. Equally staggering is a joint-venture loyalty program which has nearly every household in Scandinavia participating.

A number of major retailers/servicers utilize this program and have built a barrier to entry, making it difficult for those who do not truly understand the five Nordic countries which make up a somewhat combined domestic market. (Contrary to popular belief, there are five unique languages, differing postal regulations, differing telephone regulations, etc.)

The Swedish post office is showing new élan with CEO Lennart Grabe spearheading efforts to move forward in a variety of areas. In a bold move, he tried but failed to outbid Deutsche Post on a logistics company purchase, for example.

The Swedes also operate an extraordinarily aggressive Web site, hedging their bets on both ends of the emerging new media spectrum - helping companies get orders on the front end and doing the fulfillment and logistics on the back end. A very aggressive posture for a formerly state-owned and controlled enterprise.

With the exception of Solar Press and a number of the speakers, US direct marketers were conspicuous by their absence. This may be the only great, fully developed market with an under-developed direct marketing opportunity. All in all, a very interesting market and a very interesting show.

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