Abacus Extranet Speeds Up Targeting

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Abacus Direct has joined a movement to better leverage the power of recency and bring data access up to speed with other technology innovations that have dramatically shortened the cycle time of mailing campaigns with the formal introduction earlier this month of Abacus Extranet.


Extranet is a private Internet network of Abacus Alliance cooperative database members that uses electronic data transfer to collect transactional records on a daily basis, run them through analytical models and ship them out to member's service bureaus the next day.


The supply of the most recent buyer names is also the goal of the RFMplus cooperative database run by the Millard Group, Peterborough, NH; Mokyrnski & Associates, Hackensack, NJ; Experian Direct Tech, Schaumburg, IL; and OrderTrust, Lowell, MA. RFMplus, which tracks catalog buyers for the last 60 days, surpassed 3 million names for the first time with its first February build.


As service bureaus process names faster, and printers and lettershops speed up production, mail cycles have been narrowed to a matter of weeks. Until recently, the traditional process of collecting and shipping the names to populate mail pieces had prevented cycles from getting any shorter.


With the advent of electronic data transfer as an alternative to shipping disks or tapes, Abacus, Westminster, CO, and RFMplus can now ship names to fuel catalog mailings the same week they are received.


"The physical tape environment is affecting everyone in the industry with respect to recency," said Steve Tinlin, Abacus vice president of production services. "When technology is decreasing the production schedule of the mailer, that puts a little more pressure on us to keep up."


Extranet and RFMplus put the names of active buyers in front of co-op members quickly, enabling them to serve up targeted offers while the customer is still in a buying mode. As Tinlin said, "Recency is king in this business."


Transactional data shipped by Extranet is matched with affinity and household buying history to formulate the most pertinent offers for each member. Tinlin said processes are fast enough to run a complete model the same day the data is received. Abacus, which will continue to update data on a monthly basis, scripted a special routine to streamline what is normally a 8-12 week process down to one day.


Extranet can alert a member when one of its inactive customers makes a purchase from another Alliance member for a reactivation offer. Each cataloger provides the parameters for alerts to Abacus, which electronically ships matches to the cataloger's service bureau and notifies them by phone or fax.


So far, 350 Alliance members are participating in Extranet with over 100 transmitting data daily. Abacus plans to use Extranet to construct a weekly history of category and industry buying trends.


RFMplus does not offer modeling to its 54 participants but includes name, address, date of purchase, dollar amount and merchant for each transactional record that is overlaid with age, income, presence of children and other demographic data from Experian. Participants that are also members of the Z-24 catalog co-op get additional data appended.


RFMplus collects names daily and rebuilds the database weekly but unlike Extranet, it distributes hotline names through the traditional management-brokerage channel. A cataloger whose list is managed by Mokyrnski, for instance, would receive the names there.


Obtaining the most recent names should boost response, but to get the maximum benefit from next day access, catalogers need to be mailing frequently, said Frank Quaranta, director of new product development for Millard. He estimated that catalogers need to have two drops in each of the four seasons of the year.


Quaranta said the bulk of recency data is supplied by a core 5-6 million households of active buyers which represent the top 10 percent of mail order purchasers. He expects RFMplus to reach that core audience by boosting participation to 100 high mail-volume catalogers. The Abacus Alliance, by comparision, has 1,052 catalog participants.


"I don't see RFMplus having 1,000 catalogs," Quaranta said. "Some don't mail enough. Smaller titles might mail just two times per year."


Tinlin said infrequent mailers can use Extranet to fill out a mail plan with the most recent names or to create stand-alone lists for extra mailings in between their normal drops.
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