Consumers Not Ready for Telemarketing, Wunderman Survey Finds

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U.S. consumers have no problem with advertising in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks but show heightened concern over a private channel like telemarketing, a survey by direct marketing agency Wunderman found.

One of two consumers polled by the agency Sept. 28-30 said telemarketing has decreased in appropriateness since the attacks. Those polled preferred to have lines free for important calls.

"If you're in sensitive categories like telecommunications and financial products, realize that there's increased sensitivity in these categories," said Chip Walker, managing director of strategy and insights at Wunderman, New York.

"People are concerned about staying connected via their telecommunications and about the safety of their personal finances," Walker said. "You need to keep this in mind as you communicate with them."

These two categories use the telephone heavily to market their products and services.

According to the Direct Marketing Association, the U.S. telemarketing industry is worth more than $600 billion a year, employing 5.7 million people.

"So the advice we have for marketers is, we're not suggesting that you not use the telephone as a channel," Walker said. "We're just telling them to be sensitive about things like scripting and the overall appropriateness in using the channel."

Interestingly, the surveyed consumers agreed that it was appropriate for companies to advertise their products and services through television, newspapers, magazines, radio and direct mail.

This survey questioned 1,000 randomly selected Americans older than 18 through a random-digit dial that was representative of the U.S. adult population.

Even without surveys of this nature, many U.S. marketers have temporarily pulled back campaigns or halted them to avoid angering a grieving nation.

For example, the DMA on Sept. 18 called on its nonprofit members to suspend outbound telephone fundraising calls except to donors with whom the organization has an established relationship.

In an e-mail from his personal address, DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen called on the group's 300 nonprofit members to cease prospecting for new donors via telemarketing until at least the end of last month. The association also encouraged nonmember charities to follow suit.

The DMA sent an e-mail Oct. 3 to its nonprofit members, saying it was all right to resume telemarketing.

In its survey, Wunderman found that only 24 percent of the polled consumers said they have heard from the firms or brands they do business with after the attacks. Of those who have, 53 percent say it made them feel better about the firm or brand.

The agency, owned by WPP Group PLC's Young & Rubicam, said marketers should recognize that this year Thanksgiving might be a more important holiday for consumers than Christmas. It recommends that advertisers do a few things in this changed environment.

First, do not undertake telemarketing at this time unless absolutely necessary. Also, avoid the hard sell -- consumers may not be in the switching mode. Finally, highlight trust and reliability.

"An important one for direct marketers to think about is this notion of building trust," Walker said. "It's important to direct marketers because we have a lot of customer information. We have relationships with customers, and it's important that everything reinforces that trust."

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