There’s been an explosion of data in the database marketing industry, and the Internet is responsible for the bang that keeps getting bigger.
Not only is there a staggering amount of data both excavated and primed for digging, but every last nugget is available to anyone with a PC. When hooked up to the ever-increasing computer power that stores, processes and organizes it, the information drives marketing campaign cycle times from months to hours. In turn, such drastically reduced cycle times have resulted in current industry trends like the welding of traditional demographic data with Web site navigation behavior profiles. Forged from the resulting data is the emerging trend of molding a customer’s shopping experience – in real time – to his or her purchasing habits, histories and desires.
As the benefits of an endless supply of mineable data continue to pile up, so too can the negatives. The potential to get buried under a mountain of irrelevant data is very real. In addition, businesses that rely on database marketing will find their customers continually demanding more benefits in exchange for their information. Eventually, customers and potential customers will settle for nothing less than a shopping experience specifically modified to fit their desires.
The ability to tailor the shopping experience of every potential and existing customer based on the amount of available data is a far cry from the beginnings of database marketing. Born in 1872 with the appearance of the first Montgomery Ward catalog, database marketing didn’t change much until the early 1970s, when computerized database marketing entered its infancy. Attainable information was limited to names and addresses, and as a result, a simple form of computerized database marketing was deployed – mailing personalized letters to potential customers.
Now the Internet is used as a mining tool to identify and access specific chunks of information on both business and consumer prospects. From information on annual sales, projected profits, founding date, public or private status, and computer system used to statistics on the number of employees who prefer using pens with black vs. blue ink – the parameters are infinite. Want to find all businesses in Kansas with less than 20 employees that typically order golf-motif office furniture? Not a problem.
Also thanks to the Internet, this information is at the fingertips of every sales and marketing professional. In addition, smaller businesses are no longer barred from such data because of cost. Previously, targeted information was available only through list brokers and marketing consultants, which often either refused to waste their time on small companies or slapped giant setup fees on their services. These very same companies are now able to fire up browsers and access the same information at affordable rates anytime they want.
This information is gleaned from every possible niche – surveys, questionnaires, buying history and patterns, interactions with service departments, support groups, etc. Most recently, click stream reports detailing a shopper’s behavior and navigation through Web and e-commerce sites generate a constant influx of rich, incredibly detailed data. Instead of only finding out which pages of a Web site had the highest click rates, companies can discern how many of those visitors – and which ones – spent money. For example, in the world of banner ads, basic information consists of what percentage of people saw the ad and then clicked through the site. Now that information is tied to activities occurring further downstream, like going through a demo, downloading a white paper, registering on the site and, of course, spending money.
Popping up as a result are entire businesses offering the ability to track behavior across a number of sites. Businesses can now also find out what types of other sites their best prospects – those who clicked through an ad and actually bought something – visited before or after they came to their site. Yet as a result, there is a danger of getting buried under the rubble. To avoid it, businesses must focus only on the data relevant to their particular business needs.
The Internet is also a fulfillment vehicle driven by the data. Reduced cycle times for marketing campaigns directly result from this fast flow of rich data. E-mail campaigns and banner ads are the two most dramatic examples of reduced cycle times. Whereas snail mail campaigns could take up to eight weeks from start to finish, the cycles of these campaigns can literally be measured in days or even hours, because the information is returned almost instantly after such campaigns are deployed and the Web sites can be changed to immediately reflect the data reports.
Such campaigns are also less costly than direct mail campaigns. Funds are not eaten up by postage, sorting, packing, shipping and delivering costs. However, just because there are fewer barriers to reaching prospects doesn’t mean the prospects will be more likely to bite. In fact, the more campaigns potential customers are bombarded with, the more likely that they will become more selective in what they choose to respond to. In response, businesses should be selective about how many and which campaigns they choose to run.
In addition, businesses can sweeten their requests for information and participation in campaigns by enticing recipients with benefits. Some of the more notable dot-coms have taken a lead on this, by making recommendations on what types of new office supplies users might be interested in based on buying and response information. Such efforts represent the early stages of the customized shopping experience, where shoppers will eventually be able to wander from page to page, each of which has been created based on the data available on their shopping profiles.
In its most up-to-date form, database marketing links Web behavior data to traditional demographic information like industry type, sales volume, number of employees, etc. As more data are connected and combined to create consistently more in-depth shopping behavior profiles, Internet sites will react in real time, and personalized shopping experiences will become more common. No sooner will an administrative assistant with golf decor office furnishing needs log on to a site than the buying environment will shape itself around those needs, as well as display some of the newest putters on the market. n