Saturday, August 6, 2011

Can Technology Kill Direct Marketing?

Yesterday, I spotted a question on LinkedIn's Direct Mail Group from Mark Zazeela, mailing and shipping consultant in the Greater New York City area.

Marc was pondering what the rest of us are almost afraid to think about: Technology Overload.

Marc said, "I have been reading and hearing a lot of people talking about how difficult it is becoming to keep up with everything. You've got a million emails in your inbox, about half are SPAM, you've got your Twitter stream to manage, Facebook keeps popping up on your screen, and then there's LinkedIn, and now Google +. How do you think this will affect the direct marketing industry in the months and years to come?"

Well, Marc, as I commented, that's a good question. And, unfortunately, I think the issue goes much deeper than many of us want to acknowledge; in short, can technology, in general, kill direct marketing as we know it.

For starters, I think the bludgeoning of technology is a lot bigger than a crammed email inbox (as if that weren't enough). And small businesses -- the presumed economic backbone of a troubled economy -- are getting hit the hardest. For example:

• Apple's new "Lion" operating system reportedly won't work with QuickBooks 2010, a mainstay of many small business operations.
• And then there's Adobe's brutal restyling of FinalCutPro, which has left the majority of small business video and independent film makers in the lurch.
• I also hear that some apps for the iPad are going out of operation almost as fast as iPad OS upgrades are released.
• And then there is the sky-rocketing cost of hi-speed Internet. Our failing Congress may not recognize it as such, but to a small business, Internet is akin to electricity and water.

I wish it were possible to predict how this will affect the direct marketing industry. Up to now, technology has actually enabled many small business enterprises to compete in an increasingly fused economy. As the fusion is strained by technology evolution, how will small print shops, list brokers, design companies, copywriters, website developers, and all the small business support systems for direct marketing cope? Who will care?

One Verizon customer who found a $4.19 charge on her bill and asked Verizon for an itemization of the charges. They said they wouldn't do that and told her, essentially, to shut up and go away. She took them to court, where the judge agreed the Verizon practice of billing without explanation was outrageous. Either give the customer her itemization of charges or face a $1,000 fine, the judge said.

Sadly, as satisfying as that example of Customer v. Big Technology is, those stories are a drop in the bucket. In the meantime, we keep up as best we can, understanding that -- for the most part -- small businesses are all in this mess together. Maybe there's some way we can help one another. Thoughts?

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

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