The mood among Internet marketers has palpably shifted from sky's-the-limit anticipation to hushed seriousness.

And, boy, did it happen fast. Just a year ago, 25-year-old “new economy” entrepreneurs were telling old-school marketers condescendingly that revenue and profits were distractions.

For that, we can blame venture capitalists. Where were these guys when the kids were stupidly spending $10 million on prime-time television advertising, all the while thinking they were building brand? Fueling it, that's where.

As a result, now that the stupid money has been yanked, we're experiencing a new wave of panic in the form of layoffs and name changes. Suddenly, business-to-consumer Internet marketing is very uncool.

“If you're strictly BTC, you're not going to get funding, period,” said one entrepreneur. So, to show potential investors they've gotten religion, former dot-commers are changing their company monikers from horizon-limiting specifics such as BulkPaperclipsOnline.com to more general, traditional names such as Small Business Direct Inc. And the Internet-only firms that want to survive realize they must partner with well-known offline brands.

Fair enough.

But besides the lessons that we shouldn't limit our thinking to one sales channel and that brands can't be built overnight, what have we learned from the past two years? Apparently not enough, since we're still calling selling online “e-tailing.”

The Internet is not a damn store. It's a mail-order medium.

What does this mean? It means that partnering with a well-known, traditional brand is the right idea, but it had better be a company with the back-end infrastructure to handle distance selling.

It also means it's time for Internet marketers to learn who their customers are.

And it's certainly not too late.

“People simply need to go back to the basics of blocking and tackling,” said Ro King, a database consultant at Quaero LLC, Charlotte, NC. She offers some simple tips for getting through the next 12 months.

“Start gathering customer data. And someone needs to own it and update it, and have processes for dealing with incorrect data,” she said. “Hire people with the skills to understand it. And don't just say you're going to use it. Use it.”

Lastly, marketers must avoid succumbing to the feeling that database marketing is something everyone else understands and is doing better than they are. “No one is ahead in this. There's still time to run the good race,” King said.

Certainly sounds like rational advice.

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