EDITORIAL: AIM for Less Gobbledygook

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Message to attendees at the Association for Interactive Media's Interact 2000 conference in Palm Springs, CA, last week - and for that matter to Internet marketing conferences in general.

While many of these folks showed they are dedicated and smart in what was, all in all, a highly informative conference, there were plenty of mind-numbing esoteric discussions.

Topics at the conference, which featured an unusually high level of participation from attendees, included:

• Pre-shopping behavior patterns.

• Targeting variables: Which is best? Behavior? Interests? Demographics?

If Internet marketing executives communicate with their customers the way they talk to each other, ain't nobody going to understand what they're selling.

At least one seminar sounded like a meeting of alien anthropologists who flew in for the weekend to study and inadvertently destroy a couple of civilizations by boring them into suicidal depression.

Industry-speak is unavoidable at trade conferences, certainly, but who are we trying to impress? And these are marketers -- supposedly the best communicators companies have to offer.

Many of these folks are trying to build intergalactic voyagers when they haven't figured out how to fill bicycle tires yet. Behavioral segmentation gobbledygook is not going to move widgets out the door if customers can't figure out what the heck is being sold or how to order it.

A possible starting point: Maybe we should eliminate the word "user" from our vocabularies, or at least limit its usage as much as possible. Then maybe we can remember that it's people we're pitching, not market segments. As a result, more site owners also might remember to put their phone numbers on their home pages -- or every page for that matter -- so people, not users, can contact them.

Or if customers choose e-mail, maybe e-commerce sites will begin to have some customer service reps on hand who can answer them in simple language delivered in short friendly sentences.

Also, while designers and IT professionals have taken more than their share of shots in this column for Web sites' appalling inability to communicate and sell, a disturbing new group of offenders emerged at the AIM conference: marketers who think their target audience is Wall Street.

The stock market, not surprisingly given its recent turbulence, came up frequently at Interact 2000.

"Now we have to really start accounting for our ad dollars" was the mantra.

No financial whiz here, so take this for what it's worth, but aren't investors generally advised to put their money in companies with which they like to do business? So rather than magically trying to inject accountability into these short-lived, bullhorn-like ad campaigns that have flooded the media during the last two quarters, shouldn't customer service and public relations be a much bigger chunk of Internet marketers' budgets?

Oh, Pets.com's sock puppet took a lot of shots at AIM's conference last week for creating buzz without generating enough sales to justify costs. But how many of the marketers taking these shots launched -- or had to be talked out of -- similarly wasteful campaigns recently?

If there's any free-market justice, and apparently there still is, the Wall Street-watching marketers are going to get thumped once and for all very soon. And it will be fun for us tortoise types to witness.

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