Net Saves Service Costs

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NEW YORK - American Express received 78 million visits to its Web site last year, most of which were service visits, resulting in a 60 percent to 70 percent cost savings over telephone calls.


What's more, consumers redeemed 7 billion rewards points at AmericanExpress.com, and online travel reservations increased fivefold during the same period, said John Hayes, executive vice president, global advertising and brand management, American Express, at a panel discussion yesterday at New York University.


During the discussion, sponsored by the university and billed as an examination of the state of direct and interactive marketing in the current economy, Hayes named customization and segmentation as two keys to successful direct marketing.


"Consumers want a dialogue. They want to be engaged," he said, adding as evidence of this that a surprising number of people will answer online surveys if they think it will change the way a company does business.


When asked to name companies that were examples of online marketing done right, panelists generally were stumped. However, Russell Stravitz, chairman/CEO of specialty cataloger Brylane Inc., named Amazon.com as having done well with direct-to-consumer marketing.


"I think we're just starting [Internet marketing], and there aren't a lot of examples of companies doing it well online," Stravitz said.


Lawrence Kimmel, chairman/CEO of Grey Direct, said that the cost-savings numbers Hayes cited at the beginning of the discussion were impressive.


"Companies that are doing it right are using the Web for cost removal," Kimmel said. "Businesses are understanding that money can be saved on the Internet."


Meanwhile, panelist David Sable, president/CEO, Wunderman, New York, held up the old Sears wish book as the best interactive campaign ever. He set the scene by telling the 115 attendees to imagine they were in the Midwest in 1893, stuck in the house during a snowstorm.


"What are you doing? You're reading the Sears wish book," Sable said. During those days, people would cut out pages from the catalog, paste them on the wall and wait for product delivery in the spring, he said.


When the products arrived, Sears' rural customers made buildings such as outhouses with the wood.


"The whole thing was interactive and self-liquidating," Sable said.


He added that Sears was an original "viral marketer," giving its best customers catalogs to pass along to friends and rewarding them for purchases their friends made.


"I haven't seen anything in 10 years to match them," he said.


Sable also poked fun at the surveys television networks have been using asking people to vote online during football games, particularly the ones that appeared at the end of this year's nail-biter Super Bowl.


"I am telling you, one-tenth of 1 percent [of the viewers] went to their computers," he said.


The 1950s children's television show "Winky-Dink and You" was an example of true interactivity, Sable said.


During the program, boys and girls at home would help the Winky-Dink character get out of trouble by drawing whatever he needed -- a bridge, for example -- on their TV screens using mail-order Winky-Dink kits, which sold for 50 cents each.


The show reportedly sold millions of the kits. Children would put a piece of clear plastic that came with the kits over their television screens during the show and connect dots to create a bridge for Winky-Dink to cross to safety. At the end of the show, children would trace letters at the bottom of the screen to read the secret messages.


"Now that was interactive," Sable said.


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