SAN FRANCISCO — Roughly a thousand Web wizards and marketing mavens converged at the Web Attack conference last week, and the thrust of the talks here shows that slowly, the online world is learning to adopt some of the concepts that direct marketers have been refining for years.
Iconocast Chairman Michael Tchong, whose interactive marketing publication co-sponsored the show with ZDNet, chose an anti-hero to kick off his “anti-conference.” Super-successful self-marketer Dennis Rodman opened the ceremonies by thundering into Web Attack's hangar-like pavilion on a Harley and briefly holding forth on his own Net promotion plans.
Web Attack's format was similar to a TV talk show, with Tchong as the master of ceremonies, ushering speakers onstage for whirlwind sessions that usually ran less than five minutes each.
Many of the roughly 60 speakers echoed the same sentiment: Net businesses should embrace the basic principles of direct marketing, because their medium is ideal for it. Just as some old hands of direct marketing — catalogers, for example — have been slow to adopt the Internet, so some Webheads are sluggish about learning traditional DM methods.
“It's about the right message, to the right person, at the right time,” said Eric Heneghan, CEO of online marketing agency Giant Step. “It seems pretty simple, but it's amazing how many of us aren't getting it.”
When Susanne Schantz, director of revenue at online stock publication Raging Bull, asked what portion of the room had a traditional branding background, roughly a third of the listeners raised their hands.
And this large contingent of former or current brand people — many of whom are learning how to be Web marketers — scribbled furiously in their notebooks when viewing panels such as “Spreading the ROI Religion.” Speaker after speaker spoke of tracking return on investment, one-to-one targeting, relationship marketing, and measuring results of campaigns in real time.
“I've always said it's direct marketers who are going to make the Web work,” said Tony Levitan, co-founder of Net greeting card firm E-greetings, San Francisco.
But other Net marketers seem not to want to accept that their new electronic medium is, in essence, a direct marketing vehicle.
“I think a lot of these people are in direct marketing but don't want to believe it,” said Unity Stoakes, director of marketing and communications at online sweepstakes firm Webstakes.com. He added, however, that in many peoples' minds the Web is making one-to-one marketing “sexier.”
Reviews of the conference varied, with some attendees using words like “broad” or “light” to describe its content. The chamber of Net marketers was asked at one point to electronically vote on when they thought the Net marketing bonanza would end. The leading vote-getter? “Never.”
But other attendees spoke highly of Web Attack's quick pace, and several praised panels that dealt with branding. An early session called Offline Branding focused on promoting online businesses through traditional media, and another on the second day explored pushing products such as movie tickets on consumers' desktops. But even the ticket example, illustrated by Gordon Paddison, director of interactive marketing at New Line Marketing, included a direct response element through a hyperlink to Ticketmaster.
Web Attack gave interactive marketers a look at methods they haven't been familiar with but slowly are learning, said Jay Tolman, account director at Los Angeles ad shop Italia/Gal. He formerly did direct response work at Customer Development Corp., Peoria, IL.
“A lot of that information on ROI has been in use or been perfected in the direct response world for a decade now,” he said.
Other attendees from the traditional direct world were drawing similar conclusions about the way one-to-one techniques are gaining new traction on the Net, he said.
“We've been early adapters of this stuff and [Net marketers] are just playing it all back,” Tolman said.