Tracking, research, can illuminate industry

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At last week's Direct Marketing Association's annual convention in Las Vegas, I witnessed remarkable collaboration across disciplines and national borders. I was inspired to step outside of the traditional business arena for some fresh perspec­tive. Despite spending the week in Nevada's desert, I reflected on something aquatic: The crystal jelly, a glowing sea animal studied by this month's Nobel Prize in Chemistry honorees.

As Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien discovered, crystal jellies have a green fluorescent protein that tracks biological processes at a cellular level, by splicing a gene and using ultraviolet light to track its movement. To a direct marketer, this is a familiar concept — tracking behavior can help diagnose the best approach, whether it is through a plus-four ZIP code, a coupon tracking code or a cookie.

To illuminate how the cells work, several things must happen which are also similar to how direct marketing works. First, the protein or cell that you're after is spliced — in the marketer's world, an appropriate target is articulated and located. Next, that cell must produce its own protein in reaction to the splice. Continuing the marketing metaphor, the customer has to respond or show interest in being engaged in this way.

Now comes the UV light. For marketers, this is similar to an analytical process that recognizes purchasing intent. Do you have lasers that seek finely defined actions, or is it a floodlight that is tries to capture all data? If the procedure is done cor­rectly, the targeted cell will carry the light along with it as it interacts with other cells, illuminating a wider ecosystem. In marketing, that could translate into brand advocacy.

The final step in the process is diagnosis — what sort of influence can be had over the process to refine and improve it? Currently, scientists and marketers both struggle to answer those questions, but hopefully the future holds useful and actionable answers.

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