Q&A: Rick Witsell, VP of marketing at Alliant

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Rick Witsell
Rick Witsell

Rick Witsell, VP of marketing at Alliant, a marketing services provider specializing in cooperative data, has seen marketers add more information to their arsenals during the poor economy of the past few years. He talks about that, and how companies are bridging the gap between their online and Web-based databases, to Direct Marketing News.

Direct Marketing News: What are the major trends you're seeing in CRM and database marketing?

Rick Witsell: One of the big gorillas in the room is unifying the online and offline databases. A lot of people are still operating out of silos, and a lot of people are still figuring out how they can line all of this data up, and how to do that if their customers are averse to being contacted by e-mail. It's a valuable thing to know…figuring out the right marketing mix, and it is not intuitive. Our data comes from offline and online and all over the place, and we are working more to cite consumer behavior. What people find most useful from us is where consumers have bought before, and how do they like to buy it? Do they like to buy books or gardening videos, or whatever it might be? And are they going to be a good continuity customer or a good long-term subscriber to a magazine? Those are the types of places where a co-op like ours can help.

Direct Marketing News: What role is the economy playing in your work?

Witsell: Both 2008 and 2009 were tough. Around the end of 2009, we started seeing people getting aggressive again. It could be – I won't say a good thing – but one of the benefits of a tough marketing environment is that people are looking for smarter solutions. If they're going to invest the money, they want to make sure that they are getting the maximum value for it. So services like ours can be pretty effective for a mail campaign or an online lead generation campaign, because you can close a lot of business and spend a lot less money doing that. A lot of large companies that heard our pitch three of four years ago said, “That's interesting, but don't call us. We'll call you.” Now they are calling us and saying, “We can use some help.” I think people are getting smarter and they are using a lot more data to make better decisions. You can't just go out and paint the countryside and expect to get a return on your investment. You have to be smart about how you target. By the same token, there is so much messaging, customers are only responding to offers that are relevant. And one of the only ways to tell relevance is if you can tell their buying history. We've seen a lot of people who just went far into their house files. We can help them do that, but at the end of the day, that is a limited resource. Many are getting into acquisition mode, and we are helping them do that as well.

Direct Marketing News: What are your predictions for 2011?

Witsell: One area we are very interested in is the display advertising space and what can be done to target either the household or at the geographic level. That's one thing that is going to be interesting. Privacy issues around that aside, and assuming that Washington, DC, doesn't put us out of business, that would be a growth area. But for now, we think database marketing is becoming more and more sophisticated.

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