Fulfillment Firm Brings Tracking Online, Expands Services

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Direct mail fulfillment company Communication Concepts Inc., Ivyland, PA, is tweaking its technological infrastructure to do more work in conjunction with the Internet, and the company plans to continue developing its online capabilities over the coming year.

"It's an evolving process," said Sandy Josey, manager of fulfillment systems at CCI, a unit of direct marketing company Communications Concepts Group. "We're really trying to get our customers more involved in this process. We don't want to just throw things up there."

Josey said customers seem especially interested in being able to track the progress of their mailings and get other information online. Currently CCI lets clients get reports on their mailings through the Web, and the company can e-mail progress reports directly from their mainframe computer.

CCI sends follow-up mailings and other promotional materials for marketers across several industries and organizations trying to communicate with their membership bases. For example, an auto maker might send out various marketing packages to people who visited an auto dealership or contacted a car maker's toll-free number for information on a make of car. After specifying which kinds of materials should go to consumers with certain characteristics and how many mailings are needed, CCI sends them out.

Josey said she expects electronically transmitted marketing material to become more prevalent as long as its response rates stay at least on par with direct mail, because digital material avoids postal costs and can be sent faster.

"We firmly believe that the Internet is here and it's going to stay here," she said. "I mean people receiving traditional direct mail pieces and similar pieces in the mail, sooner or later, that's going to change." She added, however, that she doesn't see tangible, nonvirtual marketing materials disappearing in the near future.

Right now, such mailed pieces are the bread and butter at CCI. The technological backbone to the company's business is its Fulfillment Automated Mailing System, a production management system the company has continually fine-tuned over the last decade.

FAMS manages leads, tracks what happens to the leads after they arrive at CCI and identifies the quantity being mailed -- or in some cases, what isn't being mailed and why. The system then generates reports for clients.

For example, an insurance company might want to sell benefit packages, but it must vary the packages from state to state because of differing regulations. When the company collects consumer information through direct response television spots and toll-free numbers, it ends up with a pool of names that will get one of several different types of mailers.

FAMS is designed to sift through consumer data so marketers can make valid counteroffers to people even if, say, they came across an ad while traveling in one state that they aren't eligible to receive in their home state. Or if there is no possible counteroffer, the system can automatically send an apology letter.

"It gives the company the opportunity to look at someone who's interested in the product [but] not able to get the one on TV or in the newspaper ad," said Tom Derago, CCI's national sales manager. "We can cross-sell them to something else."

He added that FAMS is uniquely sophisticated among similar systems generally available.

"We know that there are production management systems that handle traditional mail, but the refinement of the information we can give our customers and the accessibility through the Internet and distribution back through the Internet I don't believe exists in a standard package," Derago said. He noted, however, that competitors' inhouse systems might have similar capabilities.

Costs for CCI's services vary by the physical packages involved, and the company charges for extra system programming work or modified reports.

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