It's About Time — Real Time

The ability to process data in real time has only been in use for six months or so, and because of the initial cost, the technology was first leveraged only by large institutions.

But today, all marketers are quickly rallying around the benefits of using real-time databases as the ultimate one-to-one marketing tool and media measurement device. As luck would have it, the price has become more affordable, too.

No longer do you have to batch transactions together and wait a period of time to impact your database. Normal time frames of congregating data are no longer acceptable. A lot can happen while you're batching transactional data. Opportunities are often lost. Real-time databases raise the standards to a level never reached before — minute-by-minute, second-by-second, moment-by-moment.

For example, a financial services company can use a real-time solution to impact its relational database on a daily basis with the previous day's transactions. They track media results daily and adjust plans accordingly. Like the financial services company, you can immediately identify that advertisements running in the Northeast aren't pulling as well as the Southeast, for example. You can shift your media expenditures overnight and have a greater impact on ROI. In the past, you would have waited a month or so for the results and the opportunity would have been lost.

This real-time capability also can be used to access and update one record at a time, enabling retail sales environments, the Internet and call centers to access marketing information in a quick and efficient fashion. Let's say you go to the hardware store over the weekend to buy something. The cashier can ask for your name and ZIP code, and in an instant, you're added to the database. Then on Monday, they can send you a thank-you card and a special offer for your next visit. One-to-one marketing at its finest.

Because matching logic is used, the cashier only needs to input minimal information. A real-time database will find a match from the customer's name and connect the full record. It speeds the process for the retail stores and eliminates the need for customers to give out full name and address information, which can create long lines at the cashier.

Now let's shift away from the traditional shopping method to the e-commerce shopping experience. Imagine that a business customer hops on the Internet to buy something from your Web site. You can verify that the business is indeed viable and listed at the given address. You can even access credit rating codes to further qualify this company.

Access tools are an efficient way to retrieve one record at a time from real-time databases. In the telemarketing arena, for example, traditionally accessing one record at a time required a character-by-character match or the use of a unique ID number. Now access can take place with limited information. If you're buying something from a catalog, the call center will usually ask you for the number on the back of your catalog. Without it, they can't efficiently find you in the database. Now, just by asking your name and ZIP code, they can find you in the database. Not only that, they can pull up demographics to see that you're married, with children in a certain age bracket and have lived in your $150,000 home for 14 years. With the complete profile on you, the telemarketer can adjust the sales presentation, product recommendations or daily specials. They can offer specials that you will be interested in or recommend a second or third item based on your demographics.

By now, you've probably thought of ways to implement real-time database marketing into your efforts. It's a sophisticated tool being used by companies large and small to track media results and access or update their databases instantly. Aside from the data being important, you no doubt realize that time is becoming an important factor as well in keeping your database the most current and useful. And with matching logic used to access your data, exact information is no longer required to find a record. Incomplete and even incorrect data can be used to access and update information. It's a match made in heaven. Ask your list manager or broker about accessing marketing information in real-time and put time on your side.

Sheldon Zaslansky is president of Walter Karl Companies, Greenwich, CT, a division of infoUSA.

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