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Conference: Privacy Still Out in the Open

White Plains, NY– The culture clash between Internet marketing and traditional direct mail surfaced again at postal list management firm Direct Media's 25th Annual Co-op Conference last week.

Rodney Joffe, president of e-mail firm Whitehat, and a vigorous proponent of anti-spam legislation, said it is just a matter of time before the cloaking of user identities becomes the norm rather than the exception. “Privacy will be complete,” he explained. “You, as marketers, will be able to rely only on voluntary information.”

On the other side of the aisle stood Ruth P. Stevens, a New York University direct marketing professor and iMarketing News columnist. She said just as forcefully that marketers need to prospect and should be able to use some of the personalization technology that exists. She expressed deep concern about the consumer and political pressure surrounding the privacy issue.

“Privacy is a runaway train right now,” said Stevens. Marketers do provide an important service to the buying public, she insisted. “We have to be ever aggressive in communicating the values we bring to consumers. Our hearts are in the right place.”

Topics such as privacy, personalization and e-mail marketing resurfaced throughout much of the conference, which was held July 12-14 in White Plains, NY.

Although the conference focused more heavily on Internet marketing and e-commerce, the direct marketing contingent showed there was still plenty of spunk left in the DM side of the business.

The business of direct marketing is about communicating with your customers, a point that should not be lost in the crush of today's technology, said Bob Foehl, the retired president of Direct Media, Greenwich, CT, and one of the co-op's hosts.

“People are talking to their customers less frequently,” he warned. “Things like e-mail, voice mail and automated response systems are driving the industry toward impersonalization.”

One session on e-mail marketing, which was hosted by Bob Bly, a 25-year copywriting veteran, referred to the practice not as e-mail marketing, but rather direct mail on the Internet.

“You're dealing with the same concepts as direct mail,” said Bly. “The subject line is like the teaser on the envelope. You need to provide a response form within the mailing. And you still have to have the right offer.”

More than a few speakers talked about the emerging practice of e-mail append services. A handful of companies, including Acxiom, E-base and Thumbprints, now offer to append e-mail addresses to its clients' customer files.

While privacy advocates, such as Joffe, predictably have serious objections to the practice of adding people's e-mail addresses to files without their knowledge, and sending out that first unsolicited e-mail, there is evidence that the service is nevertheless starting to gain traction.

Acxiom introduced its new service, called InfoBase E-mail Enhancement, at a seminar during the conference. Cahners Business Lists, during a different presentation, said that it has appended between 30,000 to 40,000 names of the 1 million names in its e-mail database.

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