Direct Marketing in the New Sandbox

Working with media can be a vast playground. Ad agency people play on the swings and climb the jungle gym. Direct marketers are the ones that roll up their sleeves, take off their shoes and socks and look to make friends in the sandbox. They are masters at building relationships. It is their mission to take the hand of our client and meet it with the hands of their customers.

And then along came the Internet and electronic mail. The texture and the contents of the sandbox changed. The new pail and shovel are e-mail and Web marketing. Let's face it, these are magnificent direct response tools that are continually evolving with the marketplace. They are worthy sisters of traditional direct mail. We now have available powerful combinations of media that create powerful marketing.

A recent campaign for NetVital Technologies illustrates the power of combining e-mail and Web marketing. NetVital provides network product solutions direct to the information technology community. Its goal was to reinforce its message of being a definitive information technology resource, which was already being established through banner advertising. Ultimately, it wanted to dominate this part of the market.

The idea was to offer a free white paper as a lead-in to visit a unique URL at which it could be downloaded. An e-mail message would lead to the URL at which the white paper was located and then follow-up would be provided through telemarketing sales and customer service.

The important concept here is that NetVital is not directly selling but offering free information that may lead to a sale. It also collaborated with an interactive agency, Lassoo Interactive (, for advice on how to promote itself through these URLs to its main Web site.

For the lists, it chose the Network World Fusion and CIO e-mail lists of information technology professionals. It selected three job functions and sent a tailored message to each function that led to a specific URL — also designed according to job function. The e-mail took the form of a short personalized letter that kept to the basics. The total names were split into three unduplicated samples and transmitted in four-day intervals.

Before transmission, the company checked all back-end systems to make sure they could handle a 10 percent response — a Web site that isn't up or doesn't give clear directions is a sure way to defeat an e-mail campaign.

NetVital tracked cost per click-through, cost per download, results by day and lead quality. The results were an 8.5 percent response rate on the first two transmissions to the Network World Fusion list and 9 percent on CIO. Response rates to the third transmissions were slightly lower. These results prompted NetVital to shift 40 percent of its spending on banner ads to e-mail rental.

Although these results are not guaranteed and will vary for other mailers, NetVital connected on all fronts to create an impressive response. It thought through the true nature of the medium and applied creativity and smart operations to achieve success.

NetVital also knew that the rules for direct response on the Web are different from those for postal mail. For instance, failing to use permission-based e-mail lists can have a tremendously negative impact on brand image.

One last thought: The landscape of the sandbox is indeed changing and to direct marketers' benefit. The result is an opportunity to apply innovation, style and creativity to a new medium that direct marketers can truly make their own.

Deb Goldstein is president of IDG List Services, Framingham, MA, a full-service list management and brokerage company specializing in information technology.

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