MeritDirect Co-Op: Metrics, Government and Ice Cream

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HARRISON, NY -- What was the resounding theme at last week's MeritDirect seventh annual Business Mailers' Co-op and Interactive Marketing Conference?

No one direct marketing tactic or channel is enough to carry the industry forward, based on the opinions of experts gathered to review DM basics and trends.

"Integration is chocolate chip ice cream, where the chocolate chips are fully integrated into the ice cream," said keynote speaker Amy Africa, president of Eight by Eight, a Williston, VT, Web usability and design consultancy.

Ms. Africa said a key to understanding online/offline integration is tracking and interpreting differences in media use. A direct mail piece uses text and engages the reader for an extended time, whereas a Web site necessitates graphics, easy-to-follow navigation and a pervasive shopping cart that demands no extra information from consumers.

Customers may prefer one channel to the other, Ms. Africa said. Offline customers who are driven to the Web, for instance, will be more targeted with their search habits and spend less time at a site.

Ms. Africa also said that e-mails are a good way to retain customers.

Another presenter at the MeritDirect co-op said e-mail marketers need to be aware of legal issues involving authentication and permission as well as deliverability roadblocks and negative perception due to spam.

"Most issues marketers face with e-mail come from getting a high number of complaints," said David Tarrant, chairman of SmartSource Corp., Burlington, MA. "Be aware of this and use best practices so that your customers don't complain."

Government Can Give, Too

Sessions on business to institutions and business to government addressed often-overlooked markets.

Mary English, director of strategic alliances at MCH, Sweet Springs, MO, said 53 percent of governments use product catalogs to influence buys. Unlike most corporations, governments are encouraged to spend their entire budget and are big buyers.

Ms. English's co-panelist emphasized the importance of the government market. Jeff Moriarty, vice president of list management for MeritDirect, White Plains, NY, said U.S. federal, state and local governments spend $2.5 trillion -- making them the No. 1 global consumer.

A government sale is not a sure thing, because governments operate on a different time schedule.

"You have to have patience and stick with it," said Rob Howlett, group publisher of Cleveland-based Penton Media's Government Product News, Government Procurement and Homeland Response titles. "Nothing happens fast with the government."

Governments expect speed from their suppliers, so quick delivery is more important than lowest price, he said. And marketers must move quickly to get a government sale. Despite year-round purchasing, budgets refresh in January, creating "move-it-or-lose-it" buy times.

Mr. Howlett said a company does not require a special government sales force.

<B>Metrics Matter Even More<B>

Terry Jukes, founder/CEO of Direct Marketing Intelligence, a Fort Lauderdale, FL, consultancy, gave marketers practical customer acquisition and retention strategies for business to business, including new product offerings, uses and formats.

He said that the consumer in BTB was the company rather than the individual buyer and encouraged targeting several people in a firm and updating files. He emphasized metrics to understand a catalog or product's performance.

Donald R. Libey, president of Libey Inc., a Des Moines, IA, DM consultancy, provided a list of "cardinal" metrics for revenue, customers, circulation, products, catalogs and operations.

He presented his "visually simplistic" system of graphing five years' worth of data for each metric. Also recommended was overlaying the visuals to paint a robust picture of the corporation's health.

During his luncheon keynote Mr. Libey, a veteran direct marketer and DM News columnist, forecast trends including v-mail (video e-mail); the "metaverse," a centrally located database of a consumer's activities; and "extreme direct marketing" using RFID technology on print to add dimension to marketing.

"[There's] too much knowledge, too much information, too much technology -- it's going to happen," Mr. Libey said.

Certainly, BTB marketers can do more to keep up with technology. Mr. Jukes said it best.

"There's too much democratization and bureaucracy in our businesses and not enough innovation," he said. "You're never going to be able to make it anywhere by just being a plodder."

With reporting from Dianna Dilworth, Giselle Abramovich and Mickey Alam Khan.

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