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Tracey E.Schelmetic

[January 6, 2004]

Dot Commentary

By Tracey E. Schelmetic
Editorial Director, CUSTOMER INTER@CTION Solutions

Perfecting Electronic Marketing Symbiosis

The marketing industry, as you may have noticed, is in a fluxormore of a typhoon, actually. Telemarketing has become much more restricted due to the plethora of legislation mandating do-not-call lists, dialer restrictions, fines and untold amounts of negative press.

Anti-spam legislation is a new step, but before that, we had the ability to blacklist certain sources of spam, and all of us have installed spam filters, pop-up blockers, banner ad blockers, spyware search and destroy programs and more measures of blocking online intrusions than you could shake a stick at (presuming you are inclined to shaking sticks).

Tivo and on-demand television and video, not to mention DVD players, have helped us regulate the advertising out of our television and movie viewing. Web and satellite radio let us listen to music commercial-free. About the only place marketing has a truly captive audience is at the movie theater, where it has become commonplace to run very strange, stylized commercials before the main features. The viewing audience, however, has begun to anticipate these ads, and counts the 15 minutes before the film starts as prime popcorn buying time and pre-feature bathroom breaks.

It doesnt matter how many new methods crop up, you cant market to people who dont want to be marketed to. The key to solving this problem is in my last sentence. We need to make people want to be marketed to.

The past two decades, the general public has become wearier and wearier of the increasingly shrill tone of marketing and advertising, particularly in the consumer sector. Has anyone noticed how fierce and bitter the Antacid Wars have become? I cannot watch television for an hour without being subjected to five different kinds of gastrointestinal cures, all battling one another over the details. This one says you have to wait two days for relief! This one starts immediately! If you dont solve your reflux problem, youll get esophageal cancer! Really! Is the lining of your esophagus puckered or otherwise weird? Do you know how you can turn off the little acid pumps in your stomach? Why get a prescription when you can buy our Gas-Away brand in the supermarket! You can eat yummy foods like pizza, Mexican lava stew and hellfire vindaloo when you take our pill! Put away the white toast and low-salt chicken broth forever! Its the purple one you wantif its not purple, it sucks!

Whats next? Are we going to have American Gladiator-style battles on primetime television between the top executives of the tummy pill companies?

Yeah, yeah, yeahits enough to give a person wellindigestion.

Back to making people want to be marketed to. Let me start by saying its an understatement that I get a lot of marketing e-mail, ranging from blatant spam (lose 100 pounds by noon) and fairly targeted newsletters. I wish I had time to read every newsletter I get each day, so Id be the most educated business person on the planet. Suffice it to say that I dont, and Im not.

There is, however, one marketing communication I always openevery time. In fact, I look forward to receiving them.

Im a fairly faithful customer of American Airlines. Even when they lose my luggage the night before a trade show in Las Vegas, and hand me only a toothbrush and a vague apology, I still tend to book with them. Why? All my frequent flier miles are with American, and my credit card is linked to earning air miles.

It goes far beyond that, however. American sends me an e-mail once a week. That e-mail includes a tally of my air miles, information on how many miles Ive earned recently and news of specials on airfare. Beyond that, it tells me about new programs available to help me earn more air miles (book with Hertz this winter and earn 10 miles for every dollar you spend; link your AT&T account to your AAdvantage account and earn miles on long-distance service, fill out a marketing survey and be put in a contest pool to win one million miles; buy flowers from 800-FLOWERS for your Mom on Mothers Day and earn a bonus of 2,000 miles; book online and print your own boarding pass and earn 1,000 miles).

Additionally, the weekly bulletin is targeted to menot to 50,000 other recipients whose demographics vaguely resemble mine, but me. Based on my past ticket buying behavior, American knows I frequently travel to Chicago on business, knows I like to go to New Orleans for fun, and knows Ive been shopping on their Web site for airfare to Ireland. As a result, they dont bother showing me the special fares to Duluth, Atlanta and Bucharest. They send me an e-mail when the fare to Dublin drops by $25 or more from its previous price, and they update me when theyre offering a special airfare and hotel deal to New Orleans.

Next, American has begun a program called iDine, which allows frequent flyer members to earn air miles at local restaurants. When I signed up for the program, they threw 500 air miles at me and sent me a book with a list of all the participating restaurants across the U.S. and abroad. When I meet friends at the popular local tapas bar and restaurant, have two glasses of rioja, tuna tartar and some fried calamari and put $53 on my AA-linked credit card, I get an e-mail two days later informing me that 530 miles have been credited to my account. The result? Im more likely to spend money at restaurants that are linked to the program. Good for the restaurants, good for American Airlines and good for Citibank. Very, very good for earning my loyalty as a consumer.

I introduced the plan to my parents, and knew theyd become addicts the day they admitted to eating corndogs and drinking lite beer in the worst dive in town the night before, all because the place offered 20 miles for each dollar spent in the iDine program.

Ive created monsters.

Perhaps the most ingenious e-marketing ploy American has shown to date, though, is its eRewards program. Since I signed up for the program, several times per week, I receive an e-mail that contains click-through screens of advertisements: sometimes for Hertz, sometimes for financial services, perhaps for a car company or a resort hotel. If I open the e-mail and click through the screens, then rate the ads value to me on a scale of one to 10, I earn eRewards dollars. The dollars tally up, and I can make purchases with my dollars from the rewards program. My target? Two thousand additional air milesall for reading e-mail advertisements. What does American and its marketing partners get? Information on how to better target ads to me as a consumer and a business traveler.

All in all? I feel that the company knows who I am, knows what I like, and is genuinely working hard to bring marketing messages to me that I value and of which I am likely to take advantage. And I live in hope that someday soon, Ill get an e-mail that includes a deep discount on an Admirals Club membership.

Meanwhile, Ill occupy myself with keeping my parents out of crack-den restaurants that offer good frequent dining points deals.

The author may be contacted at tschelmetic@tmcnet.com.

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