DM News Essential Guide to Lists and Databases: Battling the Commodity Complex

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Let's face it: Consumer data are a commodity. As a list and data provider, chances are your names are the same as your competitors'. Nancy Jones on anyone else's list is still Nancy Jones. And her mailbox is already full. Where is the glory - and the profit - in list and data management today? Certainly not in providing mere names and addresses. Marketers need much more from their data suppliers.


They've come to expect speed, flexibility and precision of their own databases, and now demand the same from list and data brokers. They seek faster counts, data exploration, upfront analysis and segmentation.


List brokers, managers and the data they supply must meet these ever more sophisticated demands or face commoditization. In fact, there's an opportunity for list and data providers to meet growing client frustrations, according a recent survey of nearly 700 marketers and marketing service providers conducted by Alterian.


According to the survey respondents, list and data purchasing represents a headache for 37 percent of marketers. Also, 55 percent are frustrated by difficulties in obtaining customer insight and analysis. This same percentage of marketers is also looking to technology to lend a critical hand.


Here are ways that you can immediately enhance your product and service portfolio by taking advantage of the latest database marketing technology.


Get it right the first time


When marketers plan a new prospecting campaign, they call their data supplier to describe their needs. That can be a hit-or-miss affair. They may end up with too many records, too few, or the wrong kind for their purpose.


There's usually a significant time gap between when an order is placed and when the count can be reviewed. If an order doesn't match a campaign requirements, the problem may not be flagged until it is too late. In the meantime, the client is usually shopping the competition. By the time the provider manages to get an accurate count for the requirements, the client may have purchased a list elsewhere.


Other providers may choose to "pad" counts with a shortfall with records that they believe will be good, but do not exactly match the brief.


List and data managers need a way to test the parameters of a selection before an order is placed. While the client is on the phone, they must able to test various assumptions and audience selection criteria.


Fortunately, the latest generation of database marketing technology is exponentially faster - and affordable. List and data providers are discovering they can run counts in minutes instead of hours.


The gain for list and data providers is monumental. Column-based relational database technology integrates data analysis with queries so record quantity and overall database population of an element are visible prior to running a count.


List and data providers can interrogate, dissect and tabulate segments in seconds to pull down the client's ideal campaign extraction, slicing and dicing until they get exactly what is required. And they can do this while the buyer is on the phone, which increases the perceived level of service offered and also the likelihood that the customer will buy from the supplier.


Work with "real" data


When most list and data providers pull counts, they do so against a sample file. While this may be fine to gauge record numbers, it does not produce the most accurate results.


For example, if a client needs to pull a specific number of records, accessing actual records means list and data providers know whether they need to supplement the list with additional criteria.


Today, it's possible for list and data providers to maintain and access data at the record level, not the aggregated level. So, when you pull a list of 10,000 records, it's actually 10,000 records. And if the list does not meet the selection criteria, you can make adjustments on the fly. This saves valuable time and ensures you meet client expectations.


Expand your portfolio to include analytical services


Until recently, offering analytical services lie beyond the reach of many list and data providers. It took a couple Ph.D.s in advance statistical reasoning to get segmentation right and develop fine-tuned analytical models. But now, a new generation of database technology has demystified analytics, making it possible for even a list broker to conduct sophisticated analytics for clients.


List and data providers can now perform data analysis. Intuitive tools now exist that are incredibly easy to use. If you know how to operate a Sony PlayStation, you can conduct analytics, too. So, what's within your reach?


Promotion history. You should be tracking your clients' past marketing activities - who responded, who purchased, what was purchased. This information is absolutely critical to creating a sound, relevant list.


Contact frequency. Your clients aren't the only ones marketing to the people on your data file. You need to know each prospect's contact profile - how often they are contacted, and with what types of offers. This will determine whether certain individuals are on or off your list. If you're not cross-referencing your list with cooperative repositories, you're not serving your clients' needs.


RFM analysis. With the latest technology, list and data providers can conduct a standard RFM model in minutes and use this information as list selection criteria.


Best customer profiling. Using analytical techniques and statistical models, it is possible to profile existing good customers and use the information to predict which prospects will be most appropriate.


These are just three examples of data analysis that should be in the portfolio of every list and data provider. The more you can provide analytics, the stronger your lists will be, and the larger will be your revenue potential.


There's absolutely no reason list and data providers should shrug off the advances in database technology that can place the power of analytics in their hands. If you do so, you help ensure your clients remain loyal at a time when marketing data is more widely available than ever before.


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