EDITORIAL: Vice President of E-Buzz, Eh?

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It's time to talk about what really is threatening Internet firms' existence -- stupid job titles. At the risk of offending good friends and otherwise sharp people, we've all seen business cards with titles like sherpa, wizard, evangelist -- cards that say someone spends way too much precious time concocting trivial ideas.

The flood of stupid dot-com job titles probably began with Webmaster, a title we all let slip through because it made the geeks who were responsible for something no one took seriously feel good.

"There you go buddy, call yourself whatever you want. Just don't ask for a raise," went the thinking.

Trouble is, once Webmaster became a respectable title, we failed to shut the gate and a whole new job-title language was born.

They come through iMarketing News' offices regularly:

"So just what is it you do at Cowboy.com, sir?"

"Why, I'm the chief e-wrangler."

Great. Chief global village idiot is more like it.

Here's a theory: An Internet company's chances of survival are inversely proportional to its percentage of stupid job titles -- stupid titles being defined as anything that can't be found on an organizational chart from before 1990.

Note that it's percentage, not number, of stupid job titles. These titles need to be weighted according to how high up the organizational chart they are. A trivial title for a CEO -- guru, grand master, or whatever -- carries a heavier failure percentage weight, say 30 percent, than a public relations executive with a title like e-image coordinator, say 5 percent.

The higher the level of the trivial title, the more valuable the time wasted. A so-called dean of e-marketing is likely to spend valuable time thinking of what to call his or her e-deanlettes, while a good old vice president of marketing will... well... market.

Internet start-up employees love to trade war stories about the long hours they put in. But one has to wonder just what it is some of them spend these long hours doing.

Inventing stupid job titles is one guess. And these job titles are indicative of an indulgent culture that is about to disappear.

In all the recent news reports of Internet firms getting squeezed, one stands out as a milestone indicating that the days of cute and trendy on the Internet are drawing to a close: the well-publicized failure of ultra-hip fashion site Boo.com. No one who reports on this business was surprised when it happened.

And now come reports that marketing budgets are getting hit and Internet ad spending could be in for "a long cool summer," as CNBC.com put it in a June 19 report contending that even DoubleClick is vulnerable to cuts in ad spending this summer.

Whether or not things are cooling off, one thing's for sure: the Internet marketplace has got a basic math problem.

Customer acquisition and order fulfillment costs are too high, and the frequency of repeat buying, average order sizes and margins are too low. And reportedly, some or all of these things often aren't being measured at all.

But basic marketing math isn't cool. Wasteful promotions are.

Meanwhile, though -- excuse the oversimplification -- the Internet marketing world still is divided into two camps:

• Young Netheads who are de facto direct marketers but haven't discovered it yet, so they're pretty bad at it.

• Traditional direct marketers who have such huge chips on their shoulders over the venture capital they never had, that the Netheads can't stand talking to them long enough to take their advice.

Four years ago, these two camps were about 10 miles apart. Today, they've got the gap closed to about nine.

What to do? Find a traditional direct marketer who is willing to experiment with his craft. Someone who understands basic concepts like customer lifetime value, but who approaches each project with an open mind, and who isn't constantly quoting direct marketing tenets as reasons not to do something -- maybe a 40-year-old with a nose ring. Give him a title like, oh, vice president of marketing. And pay him pretty much whatever he asks.

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