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Advertising ‘ambassador’ explains the reinvention of marketing

Shereshewsky, right, receives an award from Raj Veeramani, director of the E-Business Institute.
Madison, Wis. — Marketing in a digital universe is a brave new world of advertising, says Jerry Shereshewsky, ambassador plenipotentiary to Madison Avenue for Yahoo.

A University of Wisconsin student (and cohort of former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin) during the turbulent late 60s, he didn’t imagine his impact on the future of business. He was a Russian history major, and his only foray into the business school was during the 1967 Dow Chemical demonstration.

Shereshewsky was honored with the 2004 Distinguished Fellow Award by the UW E-Business Institute during their 7th annual “E-Business Best Practices and Emerging Technologies” Conference September 29 at the Monona Terrace Convention Center. As the conference keynote speaker, he addressed a largely enthusiastic audience about moving toward “permission marketing” online.

His advertising journey to Yahoo includes stops at music entertainment company BMG, where as a vice president of marketing he created one of BMG’s first Web sites; and Yoyodyne, a direct marketing promotion company that was ultimately purchased by Yahoo. He’s also credited with developing the soft-drink brand Mello Yello for the Coca-Cola Company.

An energetic speaker, Shereshewsky sprinkled references to car sales, dating, and reality television throughout his speech. He recalled that as a student he worked as a car salesman on Unversity Avenue. He discovered that potential buyers perused the lot late at night after the sales staff had gone.
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“They didn't want to be sold,” he said. “They were there exploring in the buying process.”

At the time he was unconcerned, because the buyers ultimately had no choice but to come to him for information. But now, with competitive information widely available to consumers on the internet, “those days are long gone!” he said.

“The whole purchase decision process has been turned upside-down,” he said, and recalled that during his wife’s recent car purchase, “the salesman was reduced to the role of order taker.”

He said that marketers must find a “currency” to keep consumers interested in their product, and used the example of American Airlines Advantage Points. They reward the customer for being loyal, and the customer responds by going to great lengths to travel their airline, even forgoing a shorter flight to get points, he said.

“It’s a brand consideration factor intimately connected to the frequent flyer miles,” he said.

Another successful American Airlines tactic is their e-mail updates, which are filled with consumer-specific information based on travel patterns. As a consumer, the relevance of the information is another form of “pay-off” for continuing a relationship with the company.

The permission to talk directly to the consumer by sending e-mails is invaluable to the company, Shereshewsky said, while cautioning marketers not to overload their customers, nor take that permission for granted by selling their lists to other companies.

He noted that 35 years ago, consumers were exposed to 300-400 advertising messages a day, whereas today, it is 3,000 messages a day, so marketers have the challenge of holding the customer’s attention.

He also cited TiVo as an example where the television viewer can become the television programmer. Television networks must adapt, because “adjacencies” or strong lead-in programming, like “Friends,” will no longer bring automatic viewers, and television viewers can skip commercials altogether. He pointed out television has responded with lower-cost programming, such as reality shows, and drew laughs from the audience when he exclaimed, “You don’t need talent, you need endurance!”

Marketers must build brand relationships with their customers, and he compared it to a dating scene, where one propose marriage before a date for coffee.

“The customer has to be courted, wooed, and paid for their attention,” he said, and must lower the customer’s “risk of encounter” by asking for a “maybe” instead of a “yes.”

He said the relationship between company and consumer must be based on mutuality, and that companies can now afford to be patient because online, companies can reach customers again and again for the same cost. “As marketers, we need to move from the hunter mentality to the agriculturist mentality,” he said.

There’s no magic number for “how much is too much,” he said in response to a question from the audience, and said marketers must put themselves in the consumer’s role.

“The only thing we have is your permission,” Shereshewsky said. “The user experience is and ought to be everything.”

Noting that Yahoo will celebrate only its 10th anniversary next March, he said, “It’s an exciting time. It’s the first time we’ve reinvented advertising in 50 years.”

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