1 to 1 With Thousands of Customers

Everyone is talking about one-to-one communications, but few have developed a workable system for doing it. It was hard enough for a small store owner in the past to keep track of the lives and purchasing habits of 300 customers. But most of them were able to do it. How do we, today, keep up with the lives and purchasing habits of several hundred thousand customers? That's the challenge of database marketing.

One company making a good stab at it is MicroMass Communications, Raleigh, NC, which was awarded an International Award of Excellence from the Medical Marketing Association for its Committed Quitters (CQ) program. The program is a two-way communication program for smokers who have purchased Nicorette nicotine gum or Nicoderm CQ patches and enrolled in a personalized 12-week support program run by MicroMass.

When the smoker buys a Nicorette starter kit at a drug store, inside the package he finds a CQ program outline with a toll-free number to call to enroll. In the call, he is asked 27 questions about his smoking habits, his lifestyle and his goals in the program. There are 63 possible responses, which are entered into the MicroMass data record for each participant. Shortly after the call, the smoker receives a free CQ stop-smoking plan, which has been personalized based on the questions he answered in the phone call.

He receives a 12-week calendar addressing barriers, motivations, high-risk situations and coping strategies. The next week, he gets a personalized newsletter explaining high-risk situations and providing social support plus a reminder to buy his first Nicorette refill. A week later, he gets a reinforcing postcard. Some program members elect to receive their reminders and materials by e-mail.

Meanwhile, the former smoker is chewing away or applying patches and trying to keep from dreaming about cigarettes. If he feels the need, he can call a toll-free number where a trained anti-smoking counselor will listen and offer advice. In the sixth week, he receives a trifold mailer with more advice, plus a reminder to begin tapering off. If the program is working, he should be able to do less chewing and patching and still stay smoke free. The ninth week brings a congratulations packet and, at the end of the treatment program, he receives an award packet.

How effective is the Nicorette system? Dr. Saul Shiffman of the University of Pittsburgh reported on a study of 3,807 smokers who were randomized into three groups, and all of whom got Nicorette nicotine gum:

* Those who received no outside assistance.

* Those who received the standard CQ program.

* Those who received the “enhanced” CQ program with a phone call from a counselor.

More than 75 percent of those smokers who received no assistance were smoking again after 28 days, but only 64 percent of those who received the personalized CQ program had resumed smoking. The contact program boosted the success rate by 50 percent.

“The study demonstrates the potential for low-cost, tailored printed materials to have a significant impact on cessation, even among smokers who are already receiving nicotine medication and basic written behavioral advice,” Shiffman wrote.

The study also showed that the phone call wasn't worth the extra expense, since those called had virtually the same success rate as those receiving the direct mail program alone. This may be a significant finding: Perhaps people don't like to get calls about their health maintenance programs, and money spent on such efforts might be wasted.

Anyone can buy Nicoderm or Nicorette at a drug store. But in addition, SmithKline Beecham, manufacturer of the products, has signed up more than 200 companies and HMOs who want to help their employees and patients quit smoking. Several hundreds of thousands of individuals enrolled in the program, in addition to hundreds of thousands more who bought the products, but failed to enroll.

Based on the success with this personalized communication program, Steve Sloate, vice president of MicroMass, launched a personalized patient contact project with the American Heart Association that will address individuals who have three treatable conditions: high levels of cholesterol, hypertension and stroke.

For these patients, there will be a one-year curriculum. Several thousand companies will ultimately participate in the program by sponsoring their employees. In addition to direct mail and telephone contact, the program will use a customized Web site and e-mail. Those using the Web site will be assigned a personal identification number and password to assure privacy.

In addition to the heart patient, the corporate sponsors and the patient's HMO, in some cases the patient's physicians are going to be included in the data loop. They all will receive reports on the patient's progress and will play a role in helping the patient overcome his health problems. Unlike the Nicoderm program, the American Heart program is open only to people sponsored by an employer. Private citizens can't enroll in the program as it is presently planned.

To kick off the heart program, the employee provides basic data by calling a toll-free number or by entering the data on the Heart Association's Web site. This data is entered into the employee's database record. The HMO contributes medical records and is given the resulting profile. Once in the program, participants receive four quarterly newsletters and six reminders in the mail. During the year's program, each patient will receive six calls from operators who call to set evaluation dates. The patient's behavior and success rate are tracked. After the first year, the American Heart Association will publish the results of the experimental behavioral modification program research findings.

If this program is as successful as the Nicoderm program seems to be, it could represent a breakthrough in patient care. The findings could contrast the economic difference between the direct mail and telephone follow-up costs, the costs of patient visits and subsequent hospital stays for those with similar symptoms but not enrolled in such a program.

If it works well, it will represent a new use for direct mail, telemarketing and the Internet, which could grow to be substantial in the years ahead.

Arthur Hughes is executive vice president of ACS Inc., Reston, VA, a database marketing company. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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