THE first practical, hands-on guide to direct marketing in the region is being launched by an independent pan-Asian consultant. The Asian Direct Marketing Handbook was aimed at first time entrants to the Asian marketplace and existing direct marketing practitioners seeking to extend their regional scope, said Kris Wadia, the author, editor and joint copyright owner. The US$50, 200-page text is being published in conjunction with Singapore-based World Publications Group. ''Too often, overseas marketers fail to understand Asia, deliver inappropriate material which fails to generate responses, then walk away sulking, blaming the Asian consumer rather than their own shortcomings,'' said Mr Wadia, who is also a director of direct marketing associations in both the Philippines and India. The handbook recommends an overall regional strategy and includes detailed, comparative sections on 11 Asian countries, each written by a direct marketing practitioner with extensive local experience. It has already been published in 15 countries, including the US and Europe, and has been favourably reviewed. ''Direct marketing remains relatively under-used in Asia, but the higher than average response rate and higher value orders that can be generated here make it very much the market to be in,'' Mr Wadia said. He said one ''horror story'' which exemplified the shortcomings of direct marketing involved an American company offering privileged access to demographic and business data compiled by the United States census department. The firm provided a toll-free phone number and a pre-paid business reply envelope. The number could not be accessed from outside the US, and the pre-paid reply envelope was valid only if posted in the US. In addition, the address ended with a Florida zipcode, without specifying the country. ''Clearly, this had been a direct mail shot used successfully in the US, but it had not been tailored to Asian needs at all,'' Mr Wadia said. In another example, Mr Wadia himself sought to join a frequent flyer programme with a North American carrier. ''It took 10 phone calls and six weeks before they sent me an enrolment form, in an envelope with the gender and name both incorrect: Miss Kria Wadia,'' he said. ''Inside was a tatty photocopy of a form designed for use in North America. There was no return address or fax number provided. ''Both of these were simply self-inflicted injuries that should have been avoided,'' he said. Hong Kong publishing was a classic case of ''misdirected marketing'', he said. Regional business magazines, for example, offer very heavy discounts on subscription rates together with premium incentives, such as pens, calculators or similar items. ''This reflects a misplaced emphasis on gaining new subscribers at virtually any cost. In reality, a more effective, longer-term strategy would be to emphasise retaining existing subscribers,'' he said. ''Potential subscribers are encouraged to go 'premium shopping' at present, and will need to be bribed all over again when their subscriptions come up for renewal.'' Mr Wadia agreed that the drive for new subscribers was in part driven by advertisers' demands for high circulation, but suggested media buyers were increasingly tending to focus on the quality of the readership profile. For many companies, their most under-used asset is also their database. It is better to keep an existing client than to win new ones. ''One credit card company in Britain achieved a five per cent reduction in 'churn' [customers lost] and a 125 per cent increase in profitability,'' he said. ''That illustrates the benefits that can be obtained by concentrating on cutting the 'back-end' attrition rate, rather than always seeking the expensive front-end solutions,'' Mr Wadia said. Far-sighted firms would run simultaneous acquisition and customer loyalty programmes, he said.