Coremetrics "Stealth" Launch Buzzes Seattle

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Visitors to the Direct Marketing Association's show in Seattle last week most likely found nothing exceptional about the Coremetrics exhibit. Except, of course, for its lack of information on Coremetrics.

The San Francisco firm, which quizzically bills itself as "the only true ASP-based service for online marketers," showed up at the show's exhibit hall with all the trimmings. A custom-designed booth, branded knit shirts and flat-screen displays all featured prominently.

What Coremetrics did not do was identify its "top-tier" financial backers, its "fantastic pre-launch" customers, its board, its advisers, a planned launch date or, for several people who visited the booth, what exactly it hopes to sell.

"At a Jupiter conference, that would have been considered very cool and smart. At a direct marketing conference, people just can't figure out why you would buy a booth and not have anything to sell," said Andy Sernovitz, president of GasPedal Ventures, New York. Sernovitz also founded and formerly headed the Association for Interactive Media, e-commerce's largest trade organization.

He found himself unable to get much out of Coremetrics when he swung by its display. "It's a great example of the culture clash between the Internet industry and traditional marketers," he said.

So-called "stealth" launches aren't a new fad. E-commerce newbies in particular sometimes latch onto the tactic when debuting their companies. Sernovitz compared the trend to the buzzwords - "vertical portal," "B2B," and "ASP," for example - that take turns as the hip new term among Internet start-ups.

Coremetrics considers itself a "B2B ASP." A sign at the firm's Seattle booth boasted company services in checklist fashion, including site analysis, "merchandising metrics," click-stream reports, testing and segmentation.

Coremetrics public relations director Dan Dement admitted the terms were generic but said the company would demonstrate its technology only to visitors who fit screening criteria - namely that they're "in e-commerce" and can get the technology "up and running."

The company would not give other general information, though it claims big-time investors, advisers and customers. At least until a planned media and analyst tour, the company does not want to tip its hand to competitors. Coremetrics' technology is positioned just right in the marketplace, Dement said, but the show would serve only as a "pre-launch" exhibition.

Dement denied that the company was trying to tease the market. But that claim, taken along with the fact that Coremetrics revealed almost nothing about itself, begs the question: Then why are you at a trade show?

"Just to get our name in the space," Dement said. He added that the exhibition allowed the company to prep its sales staff for "what they'll face." The company sent short follow-up e-mails to some visitors.

Coremetrics did not have company information packets on hand, but the DMA show brochure gave the company a vague overview: It helps marketers "analyze ROI on all online marketing efforts, and segment their visitor base," which in turn allows "one-to-one marketing" that can "improve customer acquisition, increase customer loyalty and gain competitive advantage."

Stealth launches have successfully created buzz for start-ups before, most notably when San Francisco-based introduced itself as the "Springfield Project." But that was almost two years ago. GasPedal's Sernovitz doubts the effectiveness of such tactics now.

"It's become a trend. The stealth launch worked well for half a dozen companies in the Bay area," said Sernovitz. "It's one of those things that was cool the first time it happened. Now it's become a gimmick."

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