Self-Reported Data: A Critical Method for Collecting Information

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The cost of technology is at an all time low, providing marketers with the ability to cost effectively reach and communicate with their customers and prospects. Information sources flourish, data is easily obtained and consumers actually want information or products or services that they have a real interest in.

The challenge today is to use your data mine in a fashion that, of course, is cost effective, but also falls within the guidelines of prudent marketing and that involves careful observation of the consumer's privacy.

Congress, along with state and local legislatures are focusing more and more, on the privacy issues of consumers. The Internet has played a major role in accelerating that focus by government. Marketers', on the other hand, are looking for ways that will enable them to provide meaningful and relevant communications to important segments of their marketing mix. Self-reported data provides an important option in today's privacy-conscious environment.

A serious database marketing program requires a commitment to a comprehensive process that includes all reliable methods of collecting consumer information. Appropriate use of consumer information is the gateway to direct marketing success. It also is extremely critical in developing high quality; long-standing relationships that result in repeat business.

Name and address alone no longer provide sufficient data to maintain a meaningful dialog between customer and client. Vital information comes in many forms: past buying history, family characteristics, lifestyle interests, direct mail buying propensity and business specific categories.

Not all business segments need this depth of information. However, if you find yourself answering yes to any one of the following questions, you definitely are a candidate to investigate the realm of Self-Reported Data:

* Do you want to reward your existing customers?

* Do you want to switch your competitor's customers to your side?

* Do you want to provide a targeted sample?

* Do you want to influence consumer opinions or provide information to better inform the consumer?

Assuming the answer is yes, let's spend a minute to briefly define self-reported data. Self-reported data is any data that is collected from various forms of media that provides concise, relevant information and is knowingly volunteered by a customer or prospect. It is essential that these various forms of distribution provide the consumer with a reasonable intent clause and the option to opt out. These benefits enable you to match the consumer with offers and information germane to their interests and allow for a more cost-effective approach while minimizing your exposure to many privacy concerns. Response rates tend to increase since self-reported responders tend to be highly promotional and mail responsive. You'll find you have a great deal of flexibility in designing data elements, the result of which will be more reliable and accurate than typical compiled or modeled lists.

There are a number of vehicles and techniques available today to establish or enhance your database. These might comprise the following: toll-free number/outbound telemarketing, rebate surveys, the Internet, on-pack/in-pack surveys, solo surveys, couponing offers, warranty cards and syndicated surveys.

Once you have decided to proceed there are a number of considerations that need to be addressed. The data elements and the depth and scope of the information to collect should be determined with forethought and care. A major consideration should be to determine the impact this type of program will have on your basic business, will this be a strategic maneuver or will it be tactical in nature?

Once the basics have been identified, you can concentrate on the details of the data you need to gather. Data, for purposes of this discussion, can be broken down into the following categories: household level, individual level, brand/frequency/quantitative and planned/intentional.

The basic building blocks should consist of full name, gender and age of the respondent; name and age of the spouse; and names and ages of other members of the household. A typical household questions might be "does anyone in your household enjoy golf? Once this basic knowledge has been gathered, the message can be delivered to the designated household and directed toward any golfer at that address.

The future looks bright for marketers who use self-reported information. Given increased public concerns about privacy, marketers must obtain information that consumers have openly shared. Consumers have been speaking up for years; now it's time for marketers to reap the profits of truly listening.

Tom Toner is vice president and general manager of Polk Datacap.

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