Think you're already getting a lot of junk mail? Prepare yourself for the age of "desktop marketing."
This fall, Lotus Development Corp., the Massachusetts-based personal computer software developer, the same people who gave us the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet and database program, will release a product called "Lotus MarketPlace: Households."
For a price of just $695, Lotus MarketPlace will allow anyone with an Apple computer, equipped with four megabytes of random access memory and an optical disc drive, to generate the sorts of prospective customer lists that were once the exclusive domain of heavy-hitting corporations.
The personal computer has become such a democratizing influence. The proper software allows almost anyone to analyze common stock performance, create boilerplate contracts or publish a newsletter at home.
And soon, Lotus MarketPlace may put target marketing into the hands of lawn care services, art galleries, jam canners, life insurance salespeople and plumbing repair shops. This program just may give some small businesses the tool they need to survive.
"Marketing is not a fringe function of a small business," said Dan Schimmel, Lotus' director of desktop information products. "This product provides something very fundamental -- helping small businesses get more new customers more good leads."
MarketPlace will be easy to use. With its simple pull-down menus, the "households" program will allow users to effortlessly define a target audience -- by sex, age, household income, shopping habits, products they are most likely to buy, lifestyles and location.
On command, the program will belch forth a list of names and addresses that fits those criteria. The first 5,000 names are free. Additional ones can be bought for about 8 cents apiece.
That per-name price is a bit higher than what some market research firms typically charge, but Lotus spokeswoman Pamela Cay said the program gives a small business unprecedented flexibility.
"You aren't relying on another person to interpret your needs," she said. "Often, small business people are unsure what their needs are, but with market researchers you often have to be specific when you call. With MarketPlace, you can fool around and come up with a bunch of different scenarios."
This is no rinky-dink sample, either. We're talking about data for 80 million households, 120 million people in all -- although one must opt for one of eight regions of the country. The data were assembled by a group of top market research companies, especially Atlanta-based Equifax. And updated discs will cost users about $400.
For privacy reasons, the program does not include anyone's home phone number. "People are bothered a lot more by getting intrusive phone calls than a heap of mail they can go through at their leisure and toss out," Schimmel said.
Lotus officials also say their company wants to discourage abuse of the product. The program's owners manual will include four pages of advice about "legal and ethical uses of MarketPlace" followed by the ethical guidelines of the Direct Marketing Association.
Thanks to such things as a consumer's magazine subscriptions, bill-paying habits, job and ZIP code, he may be pegged as a cash shopper, a coupon shopper, a flexible shopper, a lower-middle shopper, a Middle American shopper, a prestige shopper, a price shopper, an upper-middle shopper or a value shopper.
The program also differentiates among households of wealthy people, asset building families, cautious young couples, conservative seniors, mainstream families, mainstream singles, sustaining ethnic families, sustaining singles, young accumulators, anomalies or unclassifieds.
After Lotus MarketPlace makes its debut, Schimmel says, marketing as we know it may never be the same. He said the company also hopes some day to create a version of the program for IBM compatible computers.
"You have the ability to browse through data and see patterns not easy to see on a database," he said. "We've seen it in the spreadsheet business ... Our product Lotus 1-2-3 ... created a whole industry of applications that do everything under the sun."
And MarketPlace provides "a very rich set of data," Schimmel said. "It is up to the imagination as to how it is used."