List industry learns to master new tricks

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From the manually compiled lists of more than four decades ago to card-and-file systems to the complex, Internet-based platforms of today, the list marketing industry has always defined itself by the technologies it uses.

After industry pioneers, such as Edith Roman, namesake of the Infogroup company that today still bears her name, compiled some of the first direct marketing lists by name, the industry embraced electronic data storage technologies through the 1970s and 1980s.

Companies that effectively organized and used consumer data then began to set themselves apart, as merge-purge and other technologies became more mainstream.

However, the emergence of those technologies would pale in comparison to the impact that the Internet — and e-mail along with it — would have on the industry.

“The biggest change happened in the mid-1990s with e-mail,” says Jay Schwedelson, president and CEO of Worldata, a direct and interactive marketing services company. “In the past two years, there has been the greatest amount and morphing of business models, but the thing that changed the business the most fundamentally was e-mail, as well as the fact that the industry grabbed e-mail and said, ‘This is our industry to broker.'”

Nearly 20 years after the dawn of the Internet, companies that once considered themselves strictly list brokers are compiling customer data from search, social networks and other media. That confluence of media types into the list management space represents another major industry change.

“Maybe 10 years ago, we were dealing in direct mail and telemarketing data, but the direct marketing media broker or data agency is now brokering e-mail and social media-related data, as well as mobile and search data,” says Schwedelson. “As an industry, we were masters of direct mail and telemarketing, and unfortunately because there are so many new channels, I don't know if we're doing a disservice by being a one-stop shop as it relates to direct marketing media. 

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