Report from the DMA: Welcome To The Interactive Ghetto

The Direct Marketing Association has a problem--and the trade group knows it. The Internet is without a doubt the greatest direct marketing medium ever invented--and yet the father of direct marketing, the 88-year-old DMA, has stumbled time and again in embracing interactive or being embraced by the interactive community. And to be fair, the DMA is trying to change things. A lot of the old guard have been replaced, and the DMA recently launched the IMAB, a special board of interactive marketers who are advising the DMA on what it needs to do to win the hearts and minds of the interactive marketing community.

But the clear reality that there is a long way to go was evident at this year's DMA conference in San Francisco. I'm sure the idea was a good one: Let's pull all the interactive marketers out of the main trade show floor and create an Interactive Pavilion!

The reality was something much different. Instead of creating an integrated Interactive Pavilion, an isolated and removed interactive ghetto was the result, at least based on the majority of vendors I spoke with. Placed in the north wing of the Moscone Center, the interactive pavilion was about a half a mile away from the action of the main floor. And with no signage or promotion to promote the area, many floor show attendees were unaware of its presence, including the vendors themselves--who had to ask floor show personnel where their booths were.

Adding to the problem, many interactive marketers just didn't show this year, so the pavilion itself had an anemic look when compared to the main floor, which had its booths filled with magicians, race cars, and bars. One marketer commented that people took one look at the Interactive Pavilion and told their friends not to bother.

Some marketers I talked to in the interactive side liked the situation: "The traffic that does come is at least qualified. It is not a bunch of envelope salesman asking what you do." But the majority of the vendors I talked to were frustrated and angry with the traffic they were getting and the message that seemed to be sent: that the DMA, instead of integrating traditional and interactive marketing, was segregating them further. As one marketer said: "It's as if we are at the children's table. We are not good enough to sit with the grown-ups."

A shame, too, because there were some interesting announcements made by some of the e-mail companies I interviewed:

Datran Media announced a case study it had done with online company BabytoBee. BabytoBee focuses on helping expectant parents connect with consumer direct marketers. Although an online company, BabytoBee's marketing efforts were strictly old school, with 100% of its revenue coming from offline direct and telemarketing. Using Datran's adLoyalty" technology, the company began a serious e-mail acquisition strategy. As a result, e-mail revenue has increased 10 fold on a monthly basis and now accounts for 40 to 50 percent of the monthly revenue mix.

A new company, Goolara came out of stealth mode at the show to premiere its integrated e-mail platform Symphonie. Goolara claims to have raised the bar on e-mail platforms by creating a next-generation product--particularly when it comes to dynamic messaging.

SilverPop released a case study on the importance of creative in driving open rates and click-throughs. The company analyzed 612 e-mails sent by 430 companies to evaluate which creative components performed best. One of the key findings was that companies that branded themselves in the subject line increased open rates by as much as 60%. BtoB e-mails with branded subject lines had an average open rate of 32, percent compared to 20 percent with no branding. On the BtoC side, branded subject lines had a 29 percent open rate, compared to 22 percent with no branding. Another key finding was that placing the call-to-action above the fold was critical for BtoB marketers, increasing average click rate by 3.5 percentage points. But this was not true for BtoC marketers; for them, the click rate remained unchanged regardless of where the call-to-action was placed.

ExactTarget announced it was named "Best in Show" from among 150 software providers at Salesforces.com's User and Developer Conference, Dreamforce '06.

A company called Opt-Intelligence demonstrated a "smart" co-reg technology that displays co-reg offers based on the demographic profile information gleaned during the Web site registration process. When customers pick an offer, they are immediately sent a personalized e-mail.

Ad:Tech is right around the corner, and the word on the street is that it is bursting at the seams with interactive marketers with exhibit booths. The question for the DMA is: how is it going to convince those marketers that the DMA is relevant when its next show rolls around?

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