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While the spam problem receives plenty of press coverage and popular attention, the real challenge for marketers is finding new ways to engage customers increasingly wary from their daily bombardment with marketing materials, according to Hans Peter Brøndmo.
Brøndmo, a fellow at e-mail consultancy Digital Impact and columnist for IAR sister publication ClickZ, told interactive marketers at the opening day of the ClickZ E-Mail Strategies conference that the spam hullabaloo is a warning of a larger problem: Customers are fed up with intrusive mass marketing.
"This is really not about spam," Brøndmo said. "This is about the future of digital marketing. Spam is just the leading indicator."
What spam has become, he said, is a symbol of consumer frustration with cannon-blast marketing that intrudes in their lives and offers them little in the way of incentives. With "spamnation," consumers become annoyed and frustrated, alienating them from marketing of all stripes.
"Spamnation is not just about spam," Brøndmo said. "It's about the effect this type of advertising is having" on consumers.
Instead of being swept up in the spam hysteria, marketers can use the power of one-to-one, customized communications with consumers to regain their trust and build up "relationship capital." Ironically, the outcry over spam might just have this result, Brøndmo said.
With 29 states passing anti-spam laws and a number of federal measures under discussion, the cost of getting caught up in legal problems has become too high, he said. In Virginia, for example, sending spam can now be a felony punishable by jail time.
"Interruption marketing is dead," Brøndmo said. "Asking forgiveness can become very expensive."
Grocery chain Wegmans is an example of a company that has "cracked the code" of marketing intelligently, Brøndmo said. Wegmans gives customers the option of a meal-planning service that lets customers enter in information about their families and receive ideas for meals. This kind of marketing benefits both the consumer and retailer, simultaneously building "relationship capital" and increasing the cost to that customer of switching to another store.
"We're starting to see a marketplace for personal information," Brøndmo said.