Respect Consumer Choice, Speakers Urge

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NEW YORK -- Assertive consumers have changed the rules of marketing, insisting that marketers give them more control over what marketing they receive, speakers at the DMA/AIM show said yesterday.

H. Robert Wientzen, Direct Marketing Association president/CEO, introduced the day's keynote speakers with the admission that some DMers were falling short of listening to their consumers.

The lessons of the no-call list still need to be learned, Wientzen said.

"We failed to act as an industry speaking with a united, consumer-friendly voice." Wientzen said. "And so, the sins of what arguably were a few, ultimately, hurt the entire industry segment."

Michelle Peluso, chief executive of online travel company Travelocity, echoed this thought and said technology and media overload put consumers more in control than ever.

"We, as direct marketers, find the old ways aren't working," she said.

Peluso's solution is for marketers to spend more time listening to what consumers want and respecting their choices, from whether they want to receive graphics in e-mail to content personalized to their interests.

Despite the DMA's reluctance to advise against unsolicited commercial e-mail, Peluso said today's environment made permission mandatory.

"If you aren't moving to opt-in, you'll be one step behind regulators and two steps behind customers," she warned.

Likewise, CNET Networks CEO Shelby Bonnie cited the rise of TiVo and pop-up blockers as evidence that consumers have taken control and demand value from marketing messages.

"Ultimately, you have to be invited in as a marketer," he said. "If you think it's challenging now, it's only to get more challenging."

Bonnie noted the rise, and subsequent precipitous fall into bankruptcy, of pop-up pioneer X10 as Exhibit No. 1 of consumer backlash against unwanted, intrusive marketing. Though X10 was able to cheaply build near-universal online awareness of its wireless cameras by barraging consumers with pop-up ads, it alienated potential customers.

"You have to add value," he said. "You have to be part of the solution for the user."


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