Karl Dentino moved his direct marketing firm to Executive Drive last year in order to save himself from driving all the way up to Jersey City every day. Dentino, a Princeton Junction resident, simply got tired of the commute.

But it also gave him a chance to be more involved with his avocation: music. Born in Camden to a non-musical family (his father was a health inspector and his mother was a nurse’s aide), Dentino received his first guitar when he was nine.

“It was the ‘60s and everyone wanted to play guitar and get in a rock and roll band after the Beatles arrived,” he says. “When I got to college if I had not learned finger picking acoustic blues I would probably have stopped playing.”

Dentino found a certain calling in playing for senior citizen groups in and around Mercer County. In 2009 he started a music volunteer program to reach them.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time so I thought I better start doing it sooner rather than later,” says Dentino. “I started out playing at Grover’s Mill and It’s a Grind coffee houses. It’s a great way for people to play in a non-threatening environment and both places were terrific.”

“I’ve tried to combine history and entertainment to show people things that they are probably not aware of,” says Dentino, who also plays the harmonica sometimes as a second melody to complement his guitar. “The music from Memphis, New Orleans, and South Carolina in those times was comedic – almost vaudeville. That’s just what music was like in those times.”

The move has also helped his business, of course. Calling 2010 “a very pleasant surprise,” Dentino says the company made more money last year than in each of the three previous years. He isn’t sure how much of a microcosm his company is for the direct marketing industry overall, but he says Dentino Marketing did more business with almost every one of its clients in 2010.

“It is a little early to tell how 2011 will shape up but there certainly are positive signals in the economy,” he says. “And we have a backlog of projects that spilled over from the fourth quarter.

Dentino’s client roster has changed little — the company still works with Prudential, the United States Golf Association, Netflix, and MasterCard — but it is about to begin a new assignment with Time-Warner Cable, he says. Generally speaking, Dentino does not like large client rosters, as they eventually will lead to impersonal, stretched relationships. “It is much easier to sell to someone who knows you and trusts you,” he says.

What has changed — and what keeps changing — is technology. Not so long ago direct marketing was consigned to one outlet — the mail. Dentino says that computers and customer relations management software seem to be getting smarter by the day, which means marketers have access to more information about individuals and greater means to target them, based on consumer behavior. Media and advertising are getting more personal as mobile devices and social networks push boundaries.

If marketers use personal consumer information appropriately there should be fewer irrelevant offers (i.e., junk mail) and higher response rates, Dentino says. But if it is used inappropriately, such as without consumer permission, then privacy is invaded and everybody loses.

“I recently received a rash of E-mail messages from Pay Pal, or so I thought,” Dentino says. “They all looked legitimate but I was slightly suspicious.” After several attempts Dentino finally got through to a customer service representative from Pay Pal who told him that the messages did not, in fact, originate from Pay Pal. “While I appreciate her ability to clear up my confusion, I simply can never again trust an unsolicited E-mail from Pay Pal,” he says. “It is not their fault, but how will I know for certain that the message isn’t from some evil third party masquerading as Pay Pal attempting to steal my personal information? If I can’t trust Pay Pal, then can I really trust any company that sends me an unsolicited E-mail that asks me to part with information?”

Social network marketing looks to add new dimensions to the industry too. Goldman Sachs recently invested $500 million in Facebook (which itself is reportedly worth $50 billion). Why? “Advertising potential,” Dentino says. “More than 500 million people sharing personal information is an unprecedented platform for targeted marketing.”

But what about privacy concerns? Should Facebook be permitted to share information about browsing habits with advertisers? Should users be permitted to block advertisers from accessing personal information? “These are big questions for sure,” Dentino says. And while his is interested to see how this all unfolds, he is playing it cautiously. “For now I think I’ll steer clear of any forthcoming Facebook IPO,” he says. “At least until the dust settles.”

The brand new technology that everyone in marketing is paying attention to is the quick-response, or QR, code. It’s the little maze-like square that you are starting to see crop up on products and publications (like U.S. 1, for example). “We see them popping up mostly in print ads and on store shelves, but they can be found on everything from billboards to business cards,” Dentino says. Anyone with a cell phone can scan the image, which could displaying information on the phone screen or open a webpage with an enticing offer.

“I recently noticed a QR Code in a home furnishings catalog, adjacent to an image,” he says. “By taking a picture of the code I was able to see more versions on my cell phone screen and it revealed a special offer code that I could use to get a discount.”

How the future shapes up is anyone’s guess, of course, but Dentino says that the key to being a successful marketer today is to be truly media neutral. “If it produces acceptable ROI keep using it, but keep experimenting with new technology and new multi-media combinations,” he says.

But let’s not forget about direct marketing’s original bread and butter. “Traditional direct mail is enjoying a bit of resurgence now that the economy is gaining steam,” Dentino says. In fact, a national research study conducted last summer showed that the coveted 18-34 year-old consumer would rather learn about marketing offers via postal mail rather than online.

“Go figure,” Dentino says.

#b#Dentino Marketing#/b#, 515 Executive Drive, Princeton 08540; 609-454-3202. Karl Dentino, president. www.dentinomarketing.com

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