Editorial: Bezos the Cataloger?

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How far we've come. A sure sign that all is right -- albeit temporarily not particularly fun -- in the business world is that Amazon.com founder/CEO Jeff Bezos will deliver the opening keynote speech at the Direct Marketing Association's catalog conference in Chicago in June.


It seems like only yesterday that Bezos was Time magazine's 1999 Person of the Year.


Now we've got Jeff delivering the keynote at a down-to-earth trade show in a down-to-earth town on the heels of having seen his company turn a profit for the fourth quarter of 2001 on $1 billion in sales.


Can it get any more normal than this?


As a result, there will be no shortage of smugness from many of the direct marketers in the audience.


Direct marketers are some of the most analytical minds in marketing. But they also can be dismissive lunkheads when discussing Web marketing, especially since having been vindicated by the dot-com implosion. "See Martha? What'd I tell you? Bezos is a cataloger. The Internet is just one more direct marketing channel. Nothing more."


Direct marketers have had a love/chip-on-their-shoulder view of the Internet for years. They instinctively recognized it as the most elegant direct marketing medium ever invented. But few outside the industry recognize how inherently equipped direct marketers are to exploit it.


The chip is also well earned. Listen to a direct marketer explain what he or she does for a living to the uninitiated at, say, a cocktail party, and it's hard not to be sympathetic.


"No, I'm not the one sending you all those weight-loss e-mails. ... If your mailbox is filled with catalogs, you must buy from them a lot. ... No one wants to waste postage on you if you don't want to buy. ... If you want to be taken off someone's list, just say so."


As a result, when Time named Bezos Person of the Year, some DMers applauded the news as an endorsement of their craft.


Nonsense.


The editors at Time who made the decision most certainly knew little to nothing about direct marketing.


Since when do editors chat up their circulation directors?


Never, if most of the consumer press coverage of direct marketing is any indication.


Time named Bezos Person of the Year as a symbol of the so-called new economy. He was worth a gazillion dollars, but hadn't made a dime.


The only endorsement of direct marketing in Time's pick was in direct marketers' heads.


Meanwhile, however, anyone who has ever shopped on Amazon.com has witnessed online direct marketing at its best.


Amazon.com's recommendation technology is by now old news, but is astounding nonetheless. It lets customers know they'll like items they didn't even know existed. Try that with a catalog. Try it with most human sales reps, for that matter.


Amazon.com's reputation for fulfillment is unsurpassed and its use of e-mail as a shipment confirmation vehicle is exemplary.


Sick of hearing about Amazon.com? Why not try being Amazon.com?


Bezos keynoting the catalog conference is a good sign, but not because it gives some frustrated DMers an opportunity to feel superior.


Hopefully, most of them will remove the chips from their shoulders just long enough to listen to the guy and maybe learn a few things.


We welcome your views, opinions, news tips and questions -- by phone to 212/925-7300, Ext. 220; by mail to iMarketing News, 100 Avenue of the Americas, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10013; by fax to 212/925-8754; or by e-mail to ken@imarketingnews.com. Letters to the editor must be accompanied by a daytime telephone number and may be edited for space.


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