First-Timer Yahoo Goes for DM Exposure

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Once a poster child for jaw-dropping multimillion-dollar brand advertising deals online, Yahoo Inc. will signal a significant shift in focus by making its first appearance at the Direct Marketing Association's 84th Annual Conference & Exhibition next week.


To be fair, it isn't as if Yahoo just discovered direct marketing. In October 1998, it acquired permission marketing guru Seth Godin's direct marketing company, Yoyodyne, Irvington, NY, for $30 million in stock. But Yahoo's services are certainly not a household word among direct marketers.


"The reason I came here [in April from American Express] was that during my interview process I discovered that literally, Yahoo was the best-kept secret in direct marketing," said Tiana Wimmer, general manager, Yahoo direct marketing, Santa Clara, CA.


The company claims a database of 70 million Yahoo users who have given permission to receive commercial e-mail and on whom Yahoo has basic demographic data supplied during registration: age, gender, ZIP code and occupation.


"But I think the more salient data that we have on people is behavioral data," Wimmer said.


Yahoo tracks its users' interests according to their behavior on the site. More importantly to direct marketers, though, the company claims it has purchase data on its users across all of its stores. Catalogers have yet to embrace e-mail as a prospecting vehicle because of the lack of such data.


Yahoo -- which also serves as e-mail service provider to clients -- is in the midst of a test mailing to recent apparel buyers for a catalog client. Results are not available. The company also is developing lists of recent buyers "in a number of areas," Wimmer said, adding that Yahoo's list is managed internally.


"The only thing we don't do is creative," she said. "When I came here and saw all this, I said, 'Why aren't we at the DMA [fall show] strutting this stuff?' "


Good question.


Though Yahoo executives told DM News in 1998 that direct marketing was a big part of the portal's strategy, chairman/CEO Terry Semel said in a recent Wall Street Journal piece that the portal had not focused on direct marketing enough. However, more emphasis on direct marketing has reportedly been one of his mandates since taking the reins in May.


"We did not have a real focus on direct marketing," Semel told the Journal. "We are knee-deep in that stuff now."


Yahoo has 12 people in Chicago working a 10-foot-by-20-foot booth plus "various other interested parties," Wimmer said.


Among those other interested parties will be co-founder and "chief Yahoo" Jerry Yang, who will host a reception Monday to get some face time with marketing and agency executives.


Yahoo's decision to make a first appearance at the show comes at a time when overall conference attendance is questionable because of a faltering economy and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.


"We had a couple weeks of touch and go, but we just felt internally that we did not want to lose another year," Wimmer said. "It is really important that we put ourselves on the map as direct marketers, even in the business downturn."


Meanwhile, Wimmer's hiring was another sign of Yahoo's intensified focus on direct marketing. She joined Yahoo after 12 years at American Express, where she most recently was vice president of Internet marketing and previously vice president of fee services marketing. She also did a stint heading direct mail production at American Express.


"I think that [hiring from American Express] was a signal from Yahoo that they knew they had to get some more talent in here who understood direct marketing," Wimmer said.


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