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Ken Magill

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Sorry, Stan: It Ain't the Name

By Ken Magill

In an article last week on AdAge.com, direct marketing legend Stan Rapp called for the Direct Marketing Association to change its name.

His suggestion came as new DMA president Larry Kimmel is attempting to transform the organization to be relevant in the 21st Century.

In calling for a DMA name change, however, Rapp is focusing on the wrapper and not the package—which, ironically, is antithetical to everything direct marketing is about.

“The DMA, under the leadership of newly appointed CEO Lawrence Kimmel, is making massive strides toward making its offering relevant again. And I applaud Kimmel’s efforts,” wrote Rapp. “But in his inspiring opening speech this week, he stopped short of going all the way. He failed to take the one step that would signal to the rest of the business world that a newly involved direct is the marketing of the future.”

That one step? Renaming the DMA “iDMA.”

I could change my name from Ken Magill to Lance Saintly and would still be an overweight, obnoxious trade hack who drinks too much. It’s not the name. It’s the nightly stumbling down the hall at 2 a.m. and passing out on the floor with the dogs.

If I want to change my reputation, I must change my behavior and my image … you know, drop a few pounds, consume fewer martinis and cigars, clean up the language and let the dogs sleep in peace. The DMA must make a similar effort.

The DMA has a well-earned, multi-faceted image problem.

First, the DMA for more than a decade has had a reputation of viewing its members as revenue streams rather than constituents to be served. If an effort didn’t produce revenue, it wasn’t worth pursuing.

One former employee recently said of the DMA’s mentality: “The goal was to have every blade of grass at a DMA golf outing sponsored.”

The constant nickel and diming has not gone unnoticed by members, who have been asking: “Just what is it that I’m getting for my dues?”

Kimmel must change this perception, which is arguably his easiest task. Just stop dinging everybody for everything. A little added value would go a long way here.

The toughest task the DMA faces is that few who consider themselves primarily online marketers view it as an organization that can represent them in national and state governmental affairs, educate them, or offer them networking opportunities.

To the organization’s credit, one look at the seminar agenda for this year’s just-concluded DMA2010 fall conference indicates it is working on its perceived lack of digital relevance. Social media and mobile marketing were all over the schedule. It’s a start. But as Rapp pointed out, there were few digital vendors in the exhibit hall.

And herein lies the DMA’s highest hurdle. It is not hip. Direct marketing has never been hip. Direct marketers tend not to be a trendy bunch. Why? Because trendy is often stupid. Think Pets.com sock puppet.

Direct marketers don’t generally preen over their campaigns. They know their efforts—infomercials, direct mail, email, response-oriented print and online space ads—are often not pretty and they don’t care.

All they care about is results.

So though social media is trendy and was well represented on the DMA’s fall-conference agenda this year, it’s a safe bet that the majority of those who attended the show still highly doubt Facebook’s value as a marketing tool.

While the DMA can pack its agenda with panels on the hottest online trends, that doesn’t change the current makeup of its show attendees, who for the most part will be skeptical of a vendor offering some newfangled Internet whiz bang.

However, one attendee did say that some local San Francisco new-media types were highly impressed with the fall conference’s seminars and expressed disappointment that they hadn’t allotted more time for it. Get enough of those folks coming back and the digital-vendor problem will solve itself.

But there is a certain type of marketer to whom the DMA will likely never appeal no matter what it does: mass-marketing branders. These are the folks who love to go to cocktail parties and say: “Did you see my company’s ad in Vogue?” as opposed to DMers who’d rather not talk about what they do in social settings.

In his AdAge.com piece, Rapp wrote: “Most CMOs don’t understand that when they begin to market directly on the web or with social media, they are practicing the new direct marketing. One reason is that the direct-marketing name carries so much negative baggage for those who got an MBA in the mass-marketing era. They still confuse direct marketing with its past direct-mail dependence.”

He continued: “It’s going to take more than simply saying: ‘It’s a new DMA.’ We must muster the courage to go beyond simply claiming we are ‘new and improved.’ It’s time for an entirely new brand promise from the DMA –… It’s time for the iDMA.”

When the Internet began to emerge as the powerhouse direct-marketing channel it is, many DMers predicted they would finally get the respect from their branding counterparts they deserve. It didn’t happen.

No matter the channel, effective direct marketing will never have sex appeal for mass-marketing branders. DMers and branders are simply two different animals. Direct marketers should stop looking for love from their branding counterparts. It ain’t gonna happen.

Likewise, rather than trying to appeal to a group whose thinking is so alien to the craft, the DMA should focus on appealing to digital marketers who aren’t as concerned with image as they are with results.

With the possible exception of children of DMers, no one grows up saying: “I want to be a direct marketer.” They simply through happenstance find themselves practicing the craft. And those who can appreciate it for what it is stay.

These DM newbies are being hatched every day. It’s up to the DMA to find them and make its case without trying to pretend direct marketing is something it’s not. If the DMA can create and convey a value proposition to these folks, it won’t matter whether there’s a little “i” in front of its name or not.

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