by November 10, 2000 0 comments

Fifteen years ago marketing pundits were terribly excited bywhat the PC could do for the then fledging field of direct marketing. I rememberreading a book devoted to analyzing this impact. The author used all of 200pages to describe how cheap computing power and easy-to-use databases wouldrevolutionize direct marketing. Some of the major observations made by theauthor were (a) Maintaining information on customers and prospects was noweasier and cheaper than ever before (b) PC databases would help eliminate muchof the wastage from direct mailing by making it possible to tightly targetpotential customers for direct mailing and promotional activities (c) Directmarketing offers could be customized for different market segments and (d) Itwould now be possible to track the purchasing habits of consumers in detail andtailor promotional activities accordingly. The author also made several minorpoints, including one that said that the effectiveness of direct mailing couldincrease dramatically if communication was personalized.

Now turn to any book on e-marketing and you will findidentical propositions being applied to the Internet. In other words, themessage is the same but the medium has changed. It would therefore be highlyinstructive to examine to what extent PC databases actually had an impact ondirect marketing.

There is no denying the fact that the number and size ofdatabases being maintained has increased dramatically. Your name is now listedin more databases than you are aware of. Direct mail volumes have increased byleaps and bounds. I don’t have any hard statistics but would estimate thatmore than half the mail addressed to any individual, whether at home or at work,is junk mail. More interesting is the increase in what I would call soft junkmail–brochures enclosed with things like credit card or mobile phone bills.

So, has wastage been reduced by tighter targeting ofpotential customers? I don’t think so. Most people I know get tons of junkmail that seems to have been mailed at random. One reason why this is so is thatit is becoming more and more difficult to slot customers into neat categories.Buyers of goods no longer fall into simple patterns based on income, lifestyle,and the like. A simple example will make the point. Many independentsubcontractors of labor-oriented services now have mobile phones. Take, forinstance, a subcontractor who specializes in putting up advertising banners atred lights and needs a mobile phone to coordinate his activities. One can’tconsider him to be a member of a high-income group. But his name gets into amobile-service users database and this database gets sold or transferred to adirect-marketing company. Targeted mailing, in such cases, can create a strangesituation. The gentleman in this example may be struggling to break even butreceives colorful brochures for vacations in Switzerland.

Similarly, one has to have a very good database to analyzepurchasing patterns and make customized offers. One needs to be very carefulwhen designing procedures for capturing information. For example, anestablishment I patronize has a scheme for rewarding frequent customers. Theproblem is that I make purchases under different names. Sometimes I buy for mycompany on one credit card while at other times I buy for personal use onanother card. I also buy on cash. I have visited the outlet regularly for thepast few years and the staff knows me by sight, but my name doesn’t figure onthe frequent-customer list.

What lessons does this have for direct marketing over theNet? I think the most obvious lesson is to take care to clean out whatever datais collected by making visitors register on your site. Try to ensure that thevisitor is at least somewhat interested in your product before targeting him.Give the visitor an option on whether he wants to receive junk e-mail. Above alldon’t irritate the prospect by showering him with high frequency or highdecibel e-mail in which he doesn’t have the slightest interest.

Finally it’s important to remember that irritation withjunk mail tends to turn off prospects from all kinds of junk mail, irrespectiveof the content. The average recipient tends to trash all junk mail without evenreading the contents. The same situation is developing with regard to junke-mail. I think the day is not far when the average surfer will treat his Inboxas the Recycle Bin with relevant messages being undeleted instead of retrieved.

The Bottomline “Those who do not understand history arecondemned to repeat it”. Beware Internet direct marketers!

Gautama Ahuja, acontributing editor of PC Quest, runs a turnkey software development company,AHC Infotek, in Delhi

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