Aug 22 2006

People are People

People are People

So after nearly seven years of running Return Path, I think it’s now fair to say that I’m a direct marketer.  I’ve learned a lot about this business over the years, and there are a number of things about direct marketing that are phenomenal — the biggest one is that most of the business is incredibly clear, logical, and math-driven.  But there’s always been one thing about the field that hasn’t quite made sense to me, and I think it’s because the Internet is once again changing the rules of the game.

There are traditional companies in the space that focus on B2C direct marketing.  There are others that focus on B2B.  It’s been obvious to me for years that there was a huge cultural or perceived divide between these types of companies.  You can see it in the glazed over eyes and hear it in the scratchy voices of long-time industry members from the postal and telemarketing world — "Ohhh," they say, "they’re a B2B company.  We don’t do that."

But the distinction between B2B and B2C is rapidly diminishing.  I may not want a telemarketing call about office supplies on my home number or one about car insurance at work (or any of them at all!).  It might not make sense to send me a catalog for routers to my home.  I get that.  But at the end of the day, people are people, and the ubiquity of the Internet is eroding distinctions between the different places I spend time. 

True, most of us do have multiple email addresses, and some are company-sponsored while others are personal.  But how many of us have all that email coming into the same mailbox in Outlook?  Or if we do have a Yahoo or Hotmail or Gmail account, how many times per day do we check it from the office?  Is an account a B2C account?  I don’t know – AOL says there are hundreds of thousands of small businesses who use AOL.  Is an account a B2B account?  It’s probably someone’s work account, but how many times does he check that account on his Treo over the weekend?  And what if it’s that person’s only email address?

Sure, you’ll want to use different media properties or lists to acquire corporate buyers vs. individuals.  Sure, there are still some nuances of data collection in the distinction as well (no reason for LL Bean to ask you for your title), and there will always be differences in creative and copy to drive response for a corporate buyer vs. a personal buyer.  But the legacy distinctions between B2C and B2B are definitely melting away.

So I’m not accused of being Internet-myopic, this same principle (or a related one) explains why you see ads like crazy for FedEx and DHL during The Office on NBC.  I had this quote written down from several months back for which unfortunately I don’t have attribution, although I’m pretty sure it was a media buyer in a Wall Street Journal article, who said, "The best time you can reach people is when they’re in their entertainment mode and consuming media they really want to see when they’re in their down time.  And that might not be CNBC, that might be My Name is Earl on NBC."