CRM initiatives balance privacy and relevance

Thirty years ago, customer relationship management existed only in the worlds of list houses and direct mail. Today’s direct marketers know that since then the definition has expanded exponentially, but they all don’t agree on the meaning. Is it database, analytics or software? Is it cookies, opt-ins or lead generation? Is it e-mail, retail or e-commerce? Or is it a combination of all of these?

“Twenty years ago, there were no relational database management systems,” says Bryan Kennedy, CEO of Epsilon. “Previously, marketing was centered on direct mail with a linear approach, but today, along with the switch from mainframe to open systems, there’s an explosion of channels that are more transactional in nature.”

Along with a proliferation of digital channels also comes better and faster results. Marketers need to keep up. Joe Paulsen, Experian’s EVP of marketing analytics, notes that in years past it could take six months to get results from a direct mail campaign.

“But with site-side advertising, e-mail, direct TV and radio ads, and SEM, you can get results back today, and certainly within 30 days,” he adds.

With more data technologies, marketers can more easily determine campaign effectiveness and tweak campaigns with the click of a mouse.

“With data mining and segmentation, you can do A/B testing and then slice by demographic, business type, company size, region or any segment where you might use different ad messaging,” says Mini Peiris, VP of product marketing for NetSuite.

Along with more analytics software companies comes more freedom for data marketers. “Now we can focus less on creating tools and more on leveraging them to drive results for clients,” Kennedy says.

Those tools allow marketers to eliminate waste by having cleaner lists, better matching capabilities, higher speed and larger scale.

“We can determine what they’re going to buy, what they’re never going to buy, how they respond, where they live, what they subscribe to, their brand affinities and what media they consume,” Paulsen says.

Legislation and consumer privacy issues have also affected the way direct marketers conduct their data business. Most experts agree that there’s a constant tug of war between relevance and privacy.

“How do we continue to protect consumer privacy, but at the same time keep advancing what everyone knows are the data sets that can do so much for marketers?” asks Michael Darviche, CMO of Acxiom. “The creativity of how to strike that balance is very important.”

“Certainly we’re freer with our information in some ways now because we shop and do our banking online,” Peiris adds. “Our credit card information is everywhere, so standards and compliance are evolving to maintain that privacy.”

Garnering consumer data is also more complex than in years past. “The industry grew up on public sources of data like DMV registrations, accounting records and the phone book for names and addresses,” Paulsen says. “But regulation is keeping up with the times.”

In the digital space, marketers are working hard to avoid being labeled as spam or getting blacklisted. “The most trusted players in the space are working to deliver best practices to consumers,” Peiris noted.

CRM all comes down to the receptiveness of the audience. Consumers do want to be approached with offers in non-intrusive and permissible ways. “We’re never going to see such a push towards privacy that marketers will stop coming to consumers with advertising,” Kennedy said. “At the end of the day, they want that communication, as long as it’s relevant.”

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