Benelux: A Good European Hub for US Direct Marketers

AMSTERDAM — The Benelux countries make a good hub for DM companies wishing to set up a European headquarters because all the necessary infrastructure is in place and functions smoothly.

Direct mail is sophisticated and well developed, offering a full range of services. DM agencies, printers, lettershops, design studies and data processing companies offer clients the latest up-to-date technology.

More importantly for Americans new to the market, they are comfortable with all the details of handling multi-lingual programs and multi-country issues.

Complicated plate changes, multiple postal sorting requirements for different postal systems, various data formats and characters are all the norm here.

Call centers with varying philosophies and specialties abound. Everything from technical support to customer care and lead management specialties are represented.

The facilities are naturally linked and fit in perfectly with the strengths of the region. Namely; cost effective and well developed telecom infrastructure, an efficient distribution system, and access to an educated and multi-lingual work force.

Lists, as the basis for good direct mail, have also evolved with the new technologies available. In recent years the number of lists for rent or purchase has increased, as more and more list owners begin to see the value in releasing their data.

With technology, the selection possibilities have also increase to a level where targeting is much more effective. The biggest drawback now tends to be the smaller universe rather than list availability.

Response times and turnaround on orders have also become much quicker, with many suppliers able to provide information via e-mail.

The high tech list market has grown exponentially, as more and more targeted computing magazines become available to cover the ever-growing need for technology information.

Location will become much more important in the future, not so much for a sense of geographic place as ready access to the varied infrastructures – telecom, distribution, and a highly trained work force with strong multi-language and cultural understanding.

From Dockers headquarters, to high tech companies like Lucent, Adaptec, Philips and many other well know brands, you will certainly be in good company when doing business in the Benelux.

This, remember, was the core around which the Common Market was built in the postwar years and it remains the heart of the much larger European market that is taking shape in the EU.

Directives that are the basis of national European law originate in the Benelux and they are being adopted by more and more EU member countries, thus ironing out some of the legal hurdles of doing business in different countries.

Monetary union (for the most part) is on its way, which means less exchange rate hassles.

It also makes it easier to compare the cost of goods and services across various markets, making it possible to select the best supplier for a job, rather than the one with the best exchange rate advantage.

Privatization and competition in the telecom and postal sectors is bringing down the costs of doing business across longer distances.

The internet mixed with lower telecom costs makes distances smaller, and lastly, the network of high speed trains is making travel around Europe quicker and easier.

Although many things are easier, language and local customs are still a major challenge to successful direct marketing programs. Yet they are handled more easily from Benelux than from anywhere else on the continent.

As a long time trading region spanning many centuries, the Benelux offers a modern infrastructure built around foreign trade.

Jim Foster is managing director of DMC International, a pan-European DM agency located just outside Amsterdam. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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