Two Cultures Evident at Net.Marketing Show

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Clashing symbols of mature, profit-driven marketing vs. venture-capital-wasting frivolity were present at the Direct Marketing Association's net.marketing conference in Seattle last week:


• Fingerhut Cos. CEO Will Lansing's luncheon keynote speech symbolized the former.


• Unknown company Coremetrics' "stealth" launch symbolized the latter.


In an idea-packed talk, Lansing demonstrated he's a man whose thoughts are to be taken seriously.


San Francisco-based Coremetrics demonstrated the opposite by setting up a booth with no information kits and no answers about what it does - just a vague tease designed to pique interest but that ended up looking silly.


First up, Lansing: No "paradigm shift" gobbledygook from this guy. Just a levelheaded assessment of what the president of the world's largest third-party fulfillment company believes it will take to succeed in the new economy. He refreshingly explained how his company ended up with so much excess fulfillment capacity to begin with: Fingerhut executives once thought they'd be in the television-shopping network business.


Lansing's speech wasn't earth-shattering, just horse-sense smart. An old-school direct marketer whose company manages a database system with 35 variables on 31 million current and former customers, Lansing not surprisingly thinks Internet-marketing success lies in smart information management.


One, marketers must collect the information given to them. "Never ask a customer for data that she has already told you," he said. Second, marketers must collect observable information such as clickstream data. Third, marketers must know how people with like interests behave - as in collaborative filtering found in the book-recommendation engine used by Amazon.com - all in an effort to attain the Holy Grail: making the right offer to the right person at the right time.


How to get this information without stirring the privacy pot? Make what Lansing calls "good trades." Consumers will offer personal information in exchange for value - preference information in return for a personalized home page, for example.


But as part of a good trade, marketers must handle information sensitively. The reason: The Internet is becoming increasingly populated with buyer-driven marketplaces such as Priceline.com. And it is becoming increasingly less important who holds the inventory.


Sally wants a frying pan. Sally tells the Internet to "bring me back an offer." The marketer who uses Lansing's three categories of information most efficiently wins - and wins again when Sally chooses to come back.


Since many manufacturers don't have the data wherewithal to competitively sell online, and since some products are more economically moved by the pallet, and therefore not meant to be sold online, disintermediation - or the elimination of middlemen - isn't happening the way so many predicted.


Compare Lansing's thoughts to the following Coremetrics blurb in the DMA's show guide: "Coremetrics is the only true ASP-based service for online marketers. With eLuminate by Coremetrics, marketers can analyze ROI on all marketing efforts and segment their visitor base by analyzing browsing and purchasing behavior. Coremetrics enables one-to-one marketing that can improve customer acquisition, increase customer loyalty and gain competitive advantage in a fast marketplace."


What? Every buzzword's in place in that paragraph. To be fair, Coremetrics is by far not the only company guilty of ladling on the Net-speak or of trying to be cool before demonstrating usefulness - just the latest that comes to mind.


But the Internet economy's no-nonsense clock is ticking. The marketplace needs more mature thinking like Lansing's.
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