DM News Essential Guide to Lists and Databases: The List Industry in 2020

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When DM News asked me to do this article, my first reaction was, if I had 20/20 vision, I wouldn't be writing it because I would be a billionaire.


In any case, I decided to take a crack at it.


During the 33 years that I have been in business, the industry has changed a great deal. Information is compiled and delivered in ways I never imagined three decades ago.


Today, we hardly send out printed mailing labels, printed lists or CD/DVDs anymore. Everything we offer is sold and delivered online instantly. I remember when 48-hour turnaround was instant gratification. Now you had better deliver information in less than 4.8 seconds or your customers will be dissatisfied.


Companies like Yahoo, eBay, Google, America Online and Microsoft have rewritten the laws of business. When I visit my remote village in India, I see a farmer's son and daughter accessing broadband and getting information from someone's Web site in Montana or Croatia. The world has definitely become a global village.


Information is fluid and available to anybody, anywhere and at any time. List buyers know they can go online and get data straight from the source without markups or delays.


I also think the Internet today is like the Model T. It has barely scratched the surface. As Internet marketing grows more advanced, the list industry will undergo a dramatic change.


Today, the Internet is ousting print sources as the preferred compilation method. Data are being compiled from online yellow pages, company Web sites, online publications, online ads and even blogs. The same shift from print to Internet is visible in the catalog industry. Catalogers are printing fewer catalogs and favoring Internet channels as a way to lure new customers.


Direct mail always will play a role in the marketing budgets of large companies and traditional catalogers. But I predict more cooperative, innovative Web advertising in the future, including more search engine advertising and more personalized ads displayed online. My prediction is that few catalogers will sell from a printed catalog in 15 years. Even if they do, the mailing will be 10 percent of what it is today. We will see more individualized electronic catalogs with targeted, personalized products based on preferences, more relevant e-mail messages personalized and customized to each person.


Information, not lists. The Internet is only a fraction of the ever-changing picture. Our customers are changing. More customers look for in-depth information for decision making. The trend will continue. I predict that the list industry will benefit from having more customers, but they will buy fewer names. As an example, the average customer in our small business group is using 50 names at a time, not 5,000 names like in the past.


Why? Customers are hungry for better-targeted information and more depth beyond just a name and address. The term "list" industry will be replaced by the "information" industry. Compilers who find innovative ways to create proprietary information will be the survivors. In the future, you'll see a growing number of salespeople searching for detailed information one record at a time. The information-hungry audience will demand fast, simple analytics and segmentation. Salespeople will want fast answers to point them in the most profitable direction.


The good news is that people will be willing to spend more money per record because of the added value. Raw data will be quickly replaced by more end-to-end applications accessible over the Internet or cell phone or PDA. Imagine if a salesperson could go to a list Web site and select the type of prospect he wants to target. Then every morning, the matching records with in-depth details are delivered to his cell phone or PDA. As the salesperson travels, we detect his location and instantly deliver new names of nearby prospects.


A lot will change in our industry by 2020. Companies that are agile and quick to change to market conditions will survive.


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