Net Has Become Ultimate Mass, Direct Marketing Vehicle: Yahoo Exec

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NEW YORK -- Strip away half a decade of hype, and the Internet still combines the reach of mass marketing with the accountability of direct marketing, according to John Costello, Yahoo's chief global marketing officer.

And though these attributes offer unprecedented opportunity, they also present a new burden to marketers, he said in his morning keynote speech at the DMD New York Marketing Conference at Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here yesterday.

"If you ask a customer a question, and they give you an answer, you had better be prepared to respond," he said. "And responding in two weeks or later in that world is no longer feasible."

Many companies claim to be customer-focused, but simply pay lip service to the notion, Costello said. However, the saying "the consumer is in control" is not just a cliché, he said.

"Categories like electronics and automotive have a lot of technology in them, but have become very price-driven," he said. "The reason for that: Consumers know more than they ever have. You can literally, through the power of the Internet, search the world to find out not only what are the common prices, but in many cases, what are the costs."

This means the ability to be successful and the ability to go out of business "are more profound than ever before," Costello said. In many industries "there is first place, second place and nowhere else," he said. "And the goal of becoming a leader is not just a lofty goal, but may in fact be a strategy for survival."

He added that the Internet has arrived as a mainstream medium, offering Yahoo's 237 million unique monthly visitors as evidence.

"The Internet has reached a point where it is representative [of every demographic]," he said.

Meanwhile, workdays are emerging as prime time for marketing online, Costello said.

"Daytime is our equivalent of prime time, but nighttime's pretty good, too," he added.

Yahoo's traffic peaks after lunch and at the end of the workdays, and one of the most popular surfing times is Friday afternoon, Costello said.

"Maybe we're not quite as focused on that spreadsheet for those last three or four hours on Friday as everyone suggests," he said. "If you've got impulse products, that might be the right time."

He said that permission marketing is critical online.

"[Consumers] believe that the Internet is their utility, and that we're participating," he said. "They believe that they're inviting us into their ... platform. They're saying, 'If I'm going to invite you in, I'm going to make sure you're relevant while you're there.' "

He also said that building brands and driving transactions are not either/or propositions.

"I view brands as similar to banks where you make deposits and withdrawals," he said. "The great brands, whether built one at a time through direct marketing or built through mass marketing, are brands where there have been great investments over time. Some of the companies we've seen fail are companies where there have been too many withdrawals."

This is especially true in direct marketing where daily contact with customers and the pressure of meeting quarterly numbers sometimes causes marketers to lose focus on the investment in the brand, he said.

"The Internet's brought impressive opportunities. But it's really brought impressive change," he said. "As direct marketers we have an opportunity to capitalize on this change faster than anyone."

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