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By Nick Wreden

Telemarketing is proven, accountable and effective form of marketing. However, it can also create ill-will. Here are some steps that ensure that telemarketing builds your brand, today and in the future.

Telemarketing is the black sheep of branding. We all have slammed the phone down when the calls emerge at dinner time. Jay Leno jokes about the calls. ("An al Qaeda suspect listed his occupation as telemarketer. That alone should get him life in prison."). A Time magazine poll listed telemarketing as the fourth worst idea of the 20th century.

Yet despite the passions telemarketing raises, it offers the branding advantages of effectiveness and accountability. On average, telemarketing increases sales by 20%. For every $1 spent on telemarketing, $3.50 is generated in sales. Sales resulting from telemarketing account for 6% of U.S. gross domestic product. Businesses spent $73 billion on telemarketing in 2000, a sum that is up from $50 billion in 1995 and is expected to top $100 billion in 2005, according to the Direct Marketing Association. Translation: The average consumer, who gets 300 calls a year now, should expect more.

Consumers are complaining to politicians, who find telemarketers as easy a dog to kick as high taxes. More than 25 states have established do-not-call lists, and it's expected that the Federal Trade Commission will mandate a national do-not-call list shortly. To mark the first anniversary of the state's do-not-call list, the New York Consumer Protection Board ran over 100 phones -- with a steamroller.

In many ways, however, telemarketing is a bellwether as well as a black sheep. Companies who seek accountability are spending less on "awareness" and "positioning" efforts and more on telemarketing and direct mail. Results have been so good that companies pumped up the volume, creating a sales call overload.

As a result, the golden goose is now on life support. Not only is government choking telemarketers, but consumers are barricading themselves behind caller ID and telezappers.

Inevitably, the same phenomenon will repeat itself when we are all interconnected with wireless devices and each appliance in homes and businesses has the equivalent of an email address. Businesses will "cybermarket" like they telemarket today. Initial results will propel further efforts, and a backlash will hurt everyone.


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