Time to invest in Net's future

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Much of the talk about the bright future for one-to-one marketing and the Internet has been a conversation within the business community -- and business has been fascinated. Consumers, the other, and vital, part of this equation, have not really been invited into the discussion. It's been a damaging oversight and one that's hopefully about to change.

The Direct Marketing Association and a larger industry coalition, the Privacy Leadership Initiative, are in the early stages of fund raising for what they hope will be an $80 million communications effort that will, finally, tackle selling consumers on this brave new world of marketing. DMA President-CEO H. Robert Wientzen calls the campaign "a cheap price to pay for continued growth of the Internet and e-commerce." He also might have added it is a necessary expense.

If marketers have been enthused by the potential of Internet-enabled one-to-one marketing, many consumers remain skeptical about what's in it for them. Their "education" about Net marketing has come from the various groups rightly concerned about privacy issues. These groups have painted a dark world of corporations amassing megabytes of personal data without the knowledge or consent of consumers.

Out of this has come an often heated debate over opt-in versus opt-out rules for data collecting, congressional hearings on the privacy "threat," Federal Trade Commission investigations and other events that hardly focus on the benefits of one-to-one marketing for consumers. Many marketers, thankfully, know how to read consumer sentiment. While opt-out policies, which require consumers to request to be excluded from data collection plans, are at least an adequate strategy, competition has led to the active development of opt-in-based "permission marketing" strategies that give consumers much more say.

If marketers really want consumers to buy into their vision of a one-to-one future, they shouldn't be surprised some serious selling needs to be done. It's high time -- past time -- to start.

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