Don't Be Annoying, NEDMA Speaker Warns

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BURLINGTON, MA -- Ernan Roman didn't waste any time delivering a critique of the direct marketing industry in the morning keynote address yesterday at the New England Direct Marketing Association's annual conference here.


"[I wanted to] share some concerns and some realizations about the pretty sorry state of our industry and some of the danger signs that we absolutely have to pay attention to," said the president of Ernan Roman Direct Marketing, New York. "[And] how are some of our practices [contribute] to some of these problems."


Then came troubling statistics regarding increases from 2001 to 2002 in the Direct Marketing Association's opt-out databases for the Telephone Preference Service (65 percent) and Mail Preference Service (10 percent).


"I think we're up to 8 or 9 million names already and climbing unbelievably rapidly," he said.


Then he told the audience that the DMA's e-mail opt-out database had grown from 200,000 in 2001 to 552,000 in 2002.


"The threshold of tolerance on the part of the marketplace isn't there," he said. "What took decades for telephone to reach this level of irritation, or mail, has just taken a few years to reach that kind of a threshold as we look at what's happening to 'E.'"


Roman then took the edge off with humor regarding direct mail he has received, including an invitation to join AARP sent to his 18-year-old son.


He shifted back to the serious with references to the average response rates for mail of 1 percent to 2 percent, and 3.5 percent for rented opt-in e-mail lists, with 2 percent of those visiting a site actually making a purchase. He added the 67 percent to 75 percent who abandon a shopping basket.


"If we get a 1 percent, if we get a 2 percent, I guess we'll be OK," he said. "But it's not OK, 'cause what we're really needing to pay attention to is the 98.7 percent that isn't working or that is irritating folks. Is there another sector of business that accepts a 98 percent or 99 percent throw-out rate?"


To improve response rates, Roman told DMers to make the marketing process more desirable and to engage customers in a dialogue. That would involve giving up "spray and pray marketing," he said.


Changing the consumer's experience means avoiding unsolicited communications that interrupt and annoy to using solicited messages that arrive with the expectation of value.


"Let's involve the customer," he said. "Let's have the customer take part in defining their unique requirements. Let's have the customer take part in database building. The only way to get accurate information is to ask [the customer]."


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