E-mail marketing without borders

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Demand is up for e-mail campaigns that stretch across the Atlantic, but technology and regulatory barriers still make this kind of international direct marketing rough sailing.

"We've seen a rise in requests for b-to-b international marketing campaigns for the first quarter of 2001,'' said Rich Baumer, president-CEO of direct marketing agency Venture-Direct Worldwide Inc.

About 10% of VentureDirect's $125 million in annual revenue comes from Internet b-to-b direct campaigns, but that could double to 20% between January and March, Baumer said.

"It appears to me that companies are paying more attention to a unified message, both domestically and internationally, as well as a unified message both offline and online,'' he added.

Yet there are treacherous waters for those embarking on an international direct campaign, said Eric Schmitt, analyst with Forrester Research Inc.

Where U.S. and Canadian e-mail marketers are subject to regulation by only two or three agencies, their counterparts in Europe are faced with multiple regulatory outfits in every country. While VentureDirect may be primed for booming business, the growth of the medium as an international marketing tool will take years, Schmitt said.

"Long term, e-mail will be a tool used to reach new international markets, but for now the technology and organization hang-ups around global markets are keeping that from happening,'' Schmitt said. Foreign companies, he noted, are more likely to tap Europe and Asia for direct marketing than the U.S. Fortune 500, many of whom do not have corporate Web sites in any language other than English.

Privacy laws have blocked Inc. from trying a b-to-b venture in Europe, said Stuart Hochwert, president of the direct marketing firm. To get around this obstacle, his company is exploring licensing deals with locals, who would be responsible for handling local authorities. "Europe is a mess,'' Hochwert said.

Large multinational companies on foreign soil are not as aggressive in b-to-b marketing as a whole, but those that are rate among the best, said John Thompson, VP-worldwide marketing for WhiteCross Systems Ltd. The company, which opened a London office nine years ago, specializes in building sophisticated databases used in Internet marketing campaigns.

For example, Cable and Wireless plc has produced an Internet database, which allows business users to check their usage data and analyze different pricing plans for the best deal. An integrated direct marketing campaign, also run through the database, drives traffic to the site. The company, which lost $48 million in 1998, attributed the sophisticated international marketing scheme with its $224 million profit last year, Thompson said.

"On a broad-base spectrum, the U.S. is more advanced than the U.K. and Europe, but there are organizations in the United States running b-to-b marketing campaigns on a par, or in some cases more efficiently, than their U.S. counterparts,'' Thompson said.

Another WhiteCross customer is plc, the big British consumer Internet access and content company. Until last year, it figured that it didn't have a b-to-b direct marketing business because most of its 2.1 million subscribers were consumers. However, an implementation of a direct marketing database identified over 100,000 small businesses using the service as their primary point-of-presence on the Internet. Now, Freeserve is direct marketing to those businesses aggressively, through a partnership with Barclays Bank.

Steve Rodems, VP-business development for Rapp Collins Worldwide, said some of the first pieces of widespread, global direct marketing are being put in place. His firm routinely puts direct marketing materials for such clients as Dell Computer Corp., Adobe Systems Inc., Continental Airlines Inc. and Hyatt Corp. on an intranet for use by marketers on a worldwide basis. The process insures that costly mistakes aren't made overseas, while also speeding the distribution and deployment of marketing materials.

"With virtually all our direct marketing materials, we're being asked to create work briefs [reusable samples of advertising copy and graphics] for international use,'' Rodems said. "[Our searchable intranet] allows those materials to be quickly localized for various cultures. If the color white translates to death in Japan, you want to be careful of it. And if some American slang translates to something far different in German, you want to be careful of that too.''

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