The Direct Marketing Association's fifth annual Net.Marketing conference, set to begin in Seattle on Feb. 26, is expected to generate less controversy than last year's show.
Talk among some e-mail companies last year included breaking away from the DMA's Association for Interactive Media subsidiary and forming an independent organization because many believed their interests were not being represented. That plan never came to fruition because none of the companies were willing to take on the administrative duties necessary to form a new organization.
According to the DMA and show participants, the problems of 2000 are a distant memory.
This year's show will feature how e-mail can help traditional marketers remain competitive.
“There will be a lot of talk about e-NCOA [electronic national change of address] and e-mail merge/purge,” said Jay Schwedelson, corporate vice president at Worldata/WebConnect, Boca Raton, FL. “E-mail will be bigger than last year.”
While ActiveNames, New York, was the only company offering e-mail change of address services in 2000, this year the company will be joined by Veripost, Superior, CO, and ReturnPath, New York.
“This will be more of a reality show for us,” explained Brad Shapiro, vice president of marketing and business development at ActiveNames. “Last year's show was right before the dot-com bust. People at the show are serious about marketing on the Internet.”
Last year's show had 2,000 participants, according to the DMA. This year's show had reached 1,200 registrants by early this month. The exhibitor total is expected to reach 140 this year, compared with last year's 134.
“The focus will be on surviving the dot-com slowdown,” said DMA spokeswoman Christina Duffney. “Direct marketing is most successful on the Web.”
One of last year's most contentious issues was the DMA's launch of its E-Mail Preference Service in January 2000. E-MPS allows consumers to opt out of receiving unsolicited e-mail from DMA members and other marketers.
But one year later, the service's critics note that the DMA is still working on the assumption that opt-out marketing is an acceptable approach regarding e-mail. Many direct marketers say opt-out will not work because of the nature of e-mail and the economics of spam. DMA members using the service are required to cross-reference their e-mail lists with the E-MPS list in order to remove the addresses of consumers who have registered for the service.
Another problem is how to police a global opt-out policy. While E-MPS is intended for use by legitimate e-mail marketers, many insist they have no need for such a service because they already have customers' permission to send e-mail. The conclusion arrived at by some is that since the mainstream marketing community considers unsolicited e-mail unethical, the only marketers that could benefit from E-MPS are spammers.
But despite the criticism of E-MPS, show participants said the DMA is quietly becoming a force in e-mail marketing.
“The DMA over the last 12 months has taken a larger leadership position on e-mail,” Schwedelson said. “It is getting stronger and stronger, but it still has a way to go.”
He also noted that since the faltering dot-com economy has essentially shaken out many of the companies teetering on the edge of insolvency, this year's Net.Marketing show will see more traditional marketers participating.
“You'll find a bigger concentration of traditional companies with an Internet component,” Schwedelson said. “The companies with a strong Internet component will really shine at this show.”
Shapiro was in agreement.
“The dot-com bust got rid of a lot of people only in it for the money,” he said. “You'll see a lot more brick-and-mortar companies interested in e-commerce there this year.”