EDITORIAL: A Tale of Two Trade Shows

At the spring 1999 @d:tech online advertising conference in San Francisco, a woman told a colleague, “It's the same old story here. Everyone keeps saying, 'as soon as we get enough bandwidth, everything will be great.' “

She was right. Even by that point, the buzz at @d:tech shows had become so repetitive that one attendee compared them to Grateful Dead concerts where the same people travel from city to city to hear the same tunes.

Not to say that @d:tech is a trivial show. It's one of just a couple of true must-attends for online marketers. But it'll be interesting to see what tune everyone will be singing this week at @d:tech in New York Nov. 8-10 now that Internet marketing has suddenly become serious and the bandwidth fairy still hasn't arrived.

The show certainly will be an interesting contrast — even more so than usual — to the Direct Marketing Association's 83rd annual conference in New Orleans last month. There, the mood surrounding the current state of Internet marketing was one of vindication. These guys were saying that they had it right all along: The Internet is a direct marketing medium; therefore, certain fundamentals will apply.

Indeed, at every @d:tech show, two conversations I had with a couple of old-school direct marketers long before last month's DMA show come to mind. The first is one in which the CEO of a catalog firm for which I was the copywriter explained direct marketing's 40/40/20 rule. The rule states that 40 percent of a campaign's success is determined by the offer, 40 percent by the list (who it reaches) and just 20 percent by the creative approach.

“What this means is that if I reach you with the right offer, I can present it to you written in crayon on a piece of toilet paper and I've got an 80 percent chance of getting you to pull the trigger,” he said. Of course, this was a pretty blunt way of saying he didn't put much stock in the creative service department's ability to do much more than avoid screwing up communicating the offer.

Absolutist? Probably. Maybe even a little cruel, but worth pondering now that $386 has been officially deemed an unacceptable acquisition cost for a customer who will buy twice in 18 months and spend an average of $50.

The second conversation that comes to mind whenever I attend an @d:tech show is one I had with iMarketing News columnist Ruth P. Stevens about adding rich media to banner ads. “You mean to tell me you're going to take something that doesn't work and throw more money at it?” she said incredulously.

Internet advertising never has been about big pipes, or lack thereof, or about throwing more sound and graphics at people.

It's been about getting the right offer in front of the right person at the right time.

And now that a lot of the stupid money is out of the marketplace, maybe Internet marketers can focus their attention on some of the not-so-sexy stuff crucial to their companies' survival, like lowering acquisition costs, and increasing average order sizes and purchase frequency — not brilliant concepts by any stretch, but concepts that apparently can't be stressed enough.

On a related note, what will be most telling at @d:tech this week is if the language that vendors use to describe their offerings changes. More specifically, will they be speaking English?

Anyone who has ever attended an Internet trade show knows all too well the mind-numbing experience of trying to translate a vendor pitch.

“What do you do?”

“Why, we're a soup-to-nuts ASP offering the only true end-to-end integrated and scalable campaign management solution that enables the marketer to focus on ROI.”

Certainly, everyone at @d:tech this week will pay lip service to the current marketing climate. Attendees should expect to hear groaner buzz phrases like “path to profitability” often.

But vendors who truly understand what's happening will be able to explain very simply how their offerings will help marketers get there without any more bandwidth than is already available.

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