EDITORIAL: Another Backhanded Compliment

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Why is it that whenever the discipline of direct marketing gets its due, the compliment is almost always delivered like a slap in the chops?

Latest case in point: My favorite business publication, Business 2.0, ran a piece on VentureDirect Worldwide, a traditional direct marketer -- and in the interest of disclosure, an advertiser in iMarketing News and its sister publication, DM News, the print publications behind Dmnews.com. The article positioned VentureDirect as a traditional direct marketing services firm that has "transformed itself into an Internet marketing marvel."

So far, so good, right?

But get this: The headline was "Revenge of the Original Spammers."

Jeesh. Thanks, Business 2.0. You're still my favorite business pub, but now you're kind of like a relative I love dearly but want to slap in the head.

The subhead continued, "Dot-coms used to think direct marketing was beneath them. Now it's all the rage."

Here's a news flash: Many dot-coms still think direct marketing is beneath them. It's because too many of them have gross misconceptions about what direct marketing is. First, most of direct marketing is behind the scenes: efficient order fulfillment, customer service, etc. And the front-end stuff that works is generally not sexy.

As a result, dot-coms can't brag about it at cocktail parties. "I just finished a campaign that boosted my lead conversion-to-sale rate by 2 percent. Want to hear about it?"

And headlines like "Revenge of the Original Spammers" don't help. They simply perpetuate the notion that direct marketing is defined by prospecting at its worst.

Unlike e-mail, direct marketing through other media costs the marketer money, which is why traditional direct marketing evolved into such a targeting discipline.

Spam, on the other hand, connotes blasting out as much unsolicited garbage as possible. Sure, the practices of some telemarketers can always be used as a tool to bludgeon anyone who defends direct response -- so save the letters, all you anti-telemarketers. But most traditional direct marketers don't want to pitch to people who don't want to hear from them. The reason: It wastes money. Direct marketing and spam are not synonyms in any medium.

Meanwhile, the discipline's lessons keep popping up. Case in point: Kenneth Hein's piece on in which a Cyber Dialogue study revealed that 90 percent of online dollars are spent by 20 percent of online consumers (http://www.dmnews.com/articles/2000-09-18/10405.html).

Gee, does this mean that not all customers are worth acquiring? Maybe the market-share-at-any-cost philosophy was wrongheaded after all.

Or how about the fact that putting "click here" on a banner boosts response rates.

Hmmm. Might this mean that calls-to-action, even the seemingly most obvious ones, raise response rates? Where have we heard that before?

After several years of interviewing marketers, it seems direct marketing is part of a philosophy that either one gets or one doesn't. Don't know why. Maybe it's because hardly anyone in direct marketing planned to be there. They all just kind of gravitate to it in spite of its image.

The reason: It demonstrably works.

That being the case, maybe Business 2.0's headline should have been "Revenge of the People Who Can Save Your Dot-Com, But Who Are Getting Just a Wee Bit Fed Up With the Snide Comments."
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