In New Media Capital, New-School Marketer Teaches Old-School DMers

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Ted Wham believes direct marketers must turn to the Internet if they want to survive. And the director of membership at Excite@Home Inc. last week took his message to the one place where, possibly more than anywhere else, traditional DMers are taking his message to heart -- the Silicon Valley.


"If you live on top of the Silicon Valley and you're not grabbing an opportunity to do this, you'll be hating yourself in 10 years," Wham told a room full of marketers gathered for a meeting sponsored by the Direct Marketing Association's Northern California Chapter.


Wham, who learned the DM game at Laser Direct, Seattle, before joining Excite, Redwood City, CA, outlined the advantages of the Web for the crowd of mostly traditional marketers. What he didn't tell them -- overtly at least -- is that, eventually, he expects direct mailers who ignore the new Net frontier to disappear altogether.


"Direct mail will remain viable for certain niche markets. It will not remain viable, in my observation, for consumer-based or large-scale business-to-business marketing operations," Wham told <I>DM News<I> after his speech.


By now, the power of the Web is rote: Campaign testing can take place in a day or two; unit costs are lower; measurability is more varied online; and response rates for e-mail, in particular, are two to five times those of direct mail at a lower cost. But in approaching the DMA's Northern California chapter, whose members seem more tech-savvy than some of their DM colleagues elsewhere in the country, Wham explained in greater detail how some of the technical details behind e-commerce sites translate to the language old-school direct marketers understand.


Speaking of cookies, the small pieces of identifying software Web destinations affix to their visitors' PCs, Wham told the people attending that they should install them on their Web sites "whether you know what you're going to do with them yet or not." He used an overhead slide to display the cookie codes various online stores had attached to his own computer and discussed in detail how online marketers can use cookies to track the behavior of Netizens who convert into buyers. He also explained how cookies can follow the behavior of cybersurfers who don't become cyberbuyers and help merchants figure out how to get them to spend in the future.


"This gives us an opportunity to find someone who has interest in our product but doesn't buy," he said. "Direct mail sure [doesn't] do that."


Wham stressed, however, that consumers' reaction to online marketing likely will change over time as they wise up to its tactics. And he acknowledged that, for now, the total revenue racked up by traditional direct marketers and retailers dwarfs e-commerce sales.


Though the Northern California chapter's membership is dominated by traditional direct marketers, meetings on Net-related topics consistently attract more listeners than discussions on offline marketing, said Jackie Walts, vice chairwoman of the chapter and director of marketing at BuyMedia.com, Burlingame, CA.


"People who know how to do traditional direct mail are much more interested in learning what Ted has to say than in another round on doing creative for direct mail," she said. "I think the trend is, for our membership at least, to be much more interested in newer media. We're in the Silicon Valley. Everybody here has a dream of working for a dot-com or learning more about it."


The previously independent Northern California Direct Marketing Club joined the DMA fold last October. Members come from several prominent area companies, including Wells Fargo and Network Associates. Other firms that aren't members of the chapter, including 3Com, vintner Windsor Vineyards and executive gifts merchant Bravo Gifts, attended Wham's presentation.


Sharon Bonelli, sales associate at Tension Envelope Corp., South San Francisco, CA, said she doesn't take great personal interest in the Internet but knows her company feels pressure to build its online presence.


"You have to have cookies [enabled] to use our site," she said at the end of Wham's speech. "Now I know why."
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