Direct marketers starting to shape the Internet

Having just returned from the annual Direct Marketing Association conference and exhibition, held this year in the rollicking city of New Orleans, I found myself asking what it was that I had taken home from the show. Besides a lingering hangover...

Having just returned from the annual Direct Marketing Association conference and exhibition, held this year in the rollicking city of New Orleans, I found myself asking what it was that I had taken home from the show. Besides a lingering hangover and several funky new additions to my foam stress-ball collection, the answer struck me like a bolt: The Internet is for real!

True, not much of a revelation, until you consider the fact that despite the crashing sound of technology and Web-related equity stocks being heard everywhere, easily the most talked about subject among the approximately 15,000 direct marketers gathered in the Big Easy was the Internet and how it can be put to profitable use.

With the state of tech stocks these days, one would think that DMers would be retrenching and pouring their money back into the tried and proven, but numbingly expensive, world of traditional direct mail. Not the case, though, if the meeting rooms and trade hall exhibits at the DMA conference were any indication.

Virtually every session that focused on any aspect of Internet-based direct marketing was filled beyond capacity, and there were more people jockeying for position in the cramped trade show booths of the Internet technology providers than they were for just about any of the so-called ‘traditional’ DM suppliers, the majority of whom have, themselves, added Internet-based products and services to their repertoires just in the last 12 months.

And talking to delegates, whether they were from Toronto or Boise, Idaho or Los Angeles, the clear sense I got was that everyone is convinced the Internet will become an effective profit-generating tool for their firms in the very near future. It’s just a question of fine-tuning a few of the bugs that are still inherent to the beast.

Privacy, of course, continues to be an issue of major concern among U.S. direct marketers, especially considering the threat of tough new federal legislation that lies on the horizon, but a surprising number of more practical issues gained in stature at this year’s DMA conference over last.

Specifically, questions around what tools can be employed to more accurately measure the effectiveness of online ads, streamed-media e-mail, and overall Web traffic and how they can be integrated with such emerging technologies as the wireless Net and Internet-enabled TV were prevalent.

Refreshingly, the questions weren’t being asked by people in a state of panic, but much moreso in the spirit of trying to add some shape to what has so far been mostly an ill-defined entity.

David Bosworth

dbosworth@brunico.com