Generational Change Ahead in Dutch DM as E-Commerce Grows

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AMSTERDAM - The Dutch direct marketing industry faces a generational divide within the next couple of years as graduates of DM academic programs begin to enter the business in force.

"These are people who are coming into the industry as well educated professionals," Pieter van den Busken, whose B.V Advertising & Direct Marketing agency has been in business for forty years, said.

"Our universities now have several professors of direct marketing and database marketing and when these graduates come in we will see a real jump ahead and the old-fashioned people now in charge who rely only on mail order and direct mail will not last more than 2 or 3 years."

In the Netherlands, and to a somewhat lesser degree in Belgium, the DM industry has become "really mature" without losing its growth impetus, van den Busken added.

"One of the good things about DM here is that these are two very small countries so we have to be very smart in targeting and analyzing databases, and because we are talking about small audiences it is not a matter of volume but of quality."

The trigger of change here, as everywhere else, van den Busken said, is the development of e-commerce with even reluctant DM agencies who think the Internet is "a two-year hype before we go back to normal" forced to fall in line.

"Clients are either deeply involved in electronic commerce or are getting there and to be honest they may be ahead of many agency people. They have to be because their competitors are forcing them to be there."

The initial pressure, of course, comes from the consumers. Out of a population of 17 million, 3 million are now on line, putting the Netherlands on a percentage par with Norway, one of the world's most highly wired nations.

As a result the Dutch industry is, to some extent, at sixes and sevens, van den Busken said. "We are using far more innovative ways to reach people. We are multi-channel and multi-media. Anything you can mention as a medium to reach people is being used.

"Old-fashioned DM people who stick to direct mail and traditional media are being overtaken by young practitioners who say 'I don't care, whatever medium or channel we can use we will use' and that approach is going to be a problem for some people."

Even more important, van den Busken believes, is a shift within the Dutch DM agencies themselves. "We are changing from doing things to strategic thinking. We are more on the strategic than the implementation side."

Increasingly Dutch agencies are getting into the consulting business with the technical and logistic side less important than it was. Media and space buying and graphic production is being outsourced.

Small shops have sprung up in the Netherlands in recent years, most of them no bigger than two or three people, usually ex-agency types, and they are cheaper, faster and more flexible.

"Clients know that so production and implementation often goes directly to those shops of which the Netherlands has several hundred. As a result, the agency is beginning to fulfill strategic and coordinating functions.

"We're getting in at the board room level, even if we still have to use the back door. But more and more Dutch executives now understand the importance of direct marketing, especially in relationship to e-commerce."

The number of DM agencies has grown exponentially, van den Busken noted. "When we started 30 or 40 years ago there were three or four other competitors. Now we have 80 or 90 of them."

As a small market of some 27 million people the Benelux countries do present their own local problems - especially language in Belgium where the richer West speaks Flemish and the poorer East French (and in one corner German.)

"Never send a French letter to a Flemish prospect and vice versa," van den Busken counsels. "You'll get it back with all kinds of dirty words on the envelope."

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