Marketers and exhibitors at the Direct Marketing Associationâs annual conference last month in San Francisco appeared re-energized and intent on uncovering pragmatic approaches to sustaining business and maximizing budgets.
Those efforts, coupled with an increased focus on e-mail marketing and spam-related issues, governed much of the conference proceedings.
"Everyone was refreshingly upbeat," said Michael Mayor, president-COO of Netcreations, an e-mail list compiler. Mayor said direct marketers have "turned the corner on doom and gloom."
In his keynote address, DMA President-CEO H. Robert Wientzen said, "Direct marketing users are projecting a better fourth quarter. Direct marketing users expect to spend more on e-mail, followed by [spending on] new product development, database segmenting, e-commerce and customer services."
Conference sessions highlighted strategies to increase business, contain costs and generate leads. Joe Garritano, president of direct agency Penn Garritano, led a b-to-b session entitled "Nine Sure-fire Ways to Generate the âGlengarry Leads,â " alluding to the coveted leads sought by the real estate salesmen in David Mametâs 1984 play, Glengarry Glen Ross. (The popular 1992 movie version succeeded in establishing the line "coffeeâs for closers only" in the business lexicon.)
"Since the economy has been down, the Darwinism of business is in high gear," Garritano said in an interview. "At this conference, there were a lot fewer acronyms and less talk of investments in technology [than there were in recent years]. Many [attendees] were seeking experienced people to network with, and even direct competitors were commiserating about what works."
With no end in sight to the current economic malaise, marketers at the show were looking for products, services and ideas that can provide tangible results.
"People have very little patience for forward-looking ideas that donât have practical value today," said Bruno Gralpois, group manager-CRM for Microsoft Corp.âs corporate marketing unit. "They want tangible things they can apply to their marketing plans today."
E-mail marketing was one of the most popular topics at the show; the discussions focused on the economics of the medium and issues surrounding spam.
"[E-mail] is a part of the business that seems to be growing, and more so than direct mail," said Andrew Kapochunas, leader-business development and strategy for D&Bâs Sales & Marketing Solutions division.
Research supports that perception. The DMA released a study at the conference that showed more than half of marketers surveyed attributed increases in e-mail marketing to its cost effectiveness compared with traditional mail.
Kapochunas said spam is a serious issue for marketers, and cautioned that e-mail appenders need to obtain explicit permission, even from existing customers. "You have to ask them if itâs OK to e-mail," he said, even if the customers have already granted permission to market to them through other media.
Netcreationsâ Mayor said the industry lacks a central voice on the issue of spam. "Spam was the No. 2 topicâNo. 1 being the economy. But any plans I heard for combating it seemed to fall into one of two categories," he said. "One: every company for themselves, or two: someoneâs got to do something."
Other industry experts agreed thereâs been more talk than action.
"There are a lot of companies that want to fight this battle, but they donât want to invest time, labor and resources," said Ben Isaacson, principal at consultancy The Isaacson Group.
The solution demands consensus, Microsoftâs Gralpois said. "It requires industrywide adoption and buy-in from the customer," he said.
In the meantime, Microsoft is consolidating its use of e-mail marketing vendors to better control its messages. "Weâve been centralizing a lot of our e-mail marketing activities recently to assure a streamlined and responsible way of engaging with the customer electronically," he said.
Microsoft has used more than 30 e-mail marketing vendors in the past. After consolidation, "itâs probably going to be two or three maximum," Gralpois said.
Verification tools are gaining in popularity as a way to distinguish legitimate commercial e-mail from spam. Several of these products were promoted at the conference.
Ironport Systems expanded the beta test of its "Bonded Sender" program to accommodate up to 1,000 Internet service providers and e-mail senders; more than 350 currently participate. The service is designed to prevent legitimate commercial e-mail from being blocked by spam filters.
Another new company, Habeas Inc., through its Sender Warranted Email program, identifies e-mail that is guaranteed not to be spam by licensing "headers." Several ISPs, spam filter companies and clients (including Harris Interactive and White Hat) have signed on as clients of Habeas.