List Professionals Talk Up BTB Databases, Prospecting

Though private prospecting databases are the lifeblood of business-to-business mailers, cooperative transactional databases and managed databases also have a role in BTB circulation plans, according to list professionals specializing in the BTB market.

Two major private BTB prospecting databases were assembled by Direct Media and MeritDirect on behalf of each company's brokerage clients. By definition, these list-specific databases are available only to the brokerage clients of the list firm that put it together at the mailers' request, with a few exceptions. The goal is for the list brokerage to seek out and get permission to include all the lists that its clients need for their circulation plans.

The Direct Media Data Warehouse launched in 1989. Today, it houses 1,700 response and controlled-circulation lists as well as D&B and Experian data and serves 85 to 100 mailers.

“We choose to overlay all of the lists that are there with those two databases, and the result is that it expands the database,” said Max Bartko, president of business-to-business at Direct Media Inc., Greenwich, CT. “On any given standard industry classification code, you pick up 15-20 percent more names in the category. We also use the fourth-line business address and the job titles that the overlays bring to the table as well. If you're going after bigger companies, you need to have titles to differentiate your targets.”

Still, it isn't always possible to get every list a mailer wants into the private database.

“Our challenge is to get all the lists that the mailers want into the data warehouse,” Bartko said. “You can't always get every list into the data warehouse. Some list owners just don't allow their files to go into databases.”

Bartko attributed the popularity and success of private databases to the ability to select by specific lists.

“The list-specific databases really replaced merge/purge where the mailer knew and knows what lists they want to have,” he said. “They want to have the ability to select and enhance those lists.”

Direct Media lets friendly competitors such as American List Counsel and ParadyszMatera access its data warehouse for some of their clients.

MeritBase is BTB list firm MeritDirect's proprietary cooperative prospecting database. It contains more than 1,000 response, publication and compiled lists.

“Over 100 of our business mailer clients are sourcing all or virtually all of their prospecting database needs from MeritBase,” said Ralph Drybrough, CEO of MeritDirect, White Plains, NY. Drybrough was senior vice president of the BTB division at Direct Media and left in 1999 to form MeritDirect along with Mark Joyce in 2000.

According to Drybrough, about one-half to two-thirds of business mailers use one of the two proprietary prospecting databases.

Drybrough also touted the ability to select by list and track results by list in a private database.

“You don't lose your analytics by list,” he said. “That's the most predictive component of whether a list is going to work for you on an ongoing basis.”

Even so, MeritDirect is also a proponent of another type of database: the transactional cooperative database. In April 2004, MeritDirect partnered with Experian to launch b2bBase, a transaction-based co-op for business mailers. There are about 70 participants and 55 million transactions in b2bBase currently, said Nicole Bartholomew, senior product manager for b2bBase at Experian, Costa Mesa, CA.

The decision to launch the database was an obvious one, she said.

“We've been in the co-op business for over a decade now with our Z-24 consumer co-op and — due to the fact that we have extensive knowledge about co-ops and in addition we have a business information division and our National Business Database — it just seemed like the natural step,” she said.

Bartholomew also said that choosing MeritDirect as its partner in the co-op was simple.

“We looked at the industry and looked for extensive BTB knowledge and decided that it was the best opportunity,” she said.

The payoff has already begun, according to Drybrough.

“We were positive that if we built this with business rules and discipline we could significantly improve the performance of the names coming into the database,” he said. “We've got quite a few pretty extensive tests from clients who have used b2bBase and Abacus and are getting response rates that are superior.”

Of course, DoubleClick's Abacus B2B Alliance was the forerunner for BTB co-ops. Launched in 1998, Abacus B2B Alliance now has more than 350 contributing BTB participants and 1.5 billion transactions represented on the database.

“We have about another 500 prospects that we would like to see join,” said Stacey Hawes, BTB market manager at DoubleClick Data, which encompasses Abacus B2B Alliance. “I think by the end of the year we will reach 400 participants, so we're still very much in growth mode.”

Though co-ops don't go down to individual list level, the firmographics and RFM data play a role and produce phenomenal results, Hawes said.

“We have seen a comparable or higher response rate to the average within their lists as well as the average order size being significantly higher,” she added.

Both co-op executives agreed that not only do they compete with each other but also with the private databases.

“MeritBase and Direct Media's Data Warehouse very much compete with the Abacus database,” Hawes said. “They are not transactional databases but they each have over 1,000 lists in them as well as compiled data, and that's primarily where the BTB market gets their names.”

Though Direct Media is not currently involved in a transactional database, it launched one briefly in July 2000.

“We did make an attempt to start our own transactional database but stopped that effort,” Bartko said. “What we decided to do instead was update the list-specific database that was the original cooperative database started back in '89. Transactional databases, by definition, lose the specificity of the list.”

In addition, Direct Media also has a managed database called Executive Data Bank that is open to outside brokers and contains a portion of the lists from its data warehouse.

Similarly, list firm and infoUSA subsidiary Edith Roman Associates, Pearl River, NY, has two large BTB managed databases open to all brokers upon approval of a mail piece.

The Business Response Alliance Database is a BTB database consisting of 963 response files including catalogs, publications, book buyers, seminar/conference attendees and association members. Edith Roman manages all the files within BRAD.

The firm also has a business e-mail cooperative database called Business E-Mail Network that launched about a year ago.

“We envision that we will have over 7 1/2 million business e-mails selectable by firmographics by the end of July,” said Ed Mallin, group president of infoUSA's Walter Karl, Edith Roman Associates and Yesmail, which are all part of the company's Donnelley Marketing Group. “We see it expanding and growing as we add partners. We have well over 150 partners including some of the top players in the industry.”

Mallin also said Edith Roman is engaged in building private databases incorporating hundreds of lists for some of its larger clients. He said the firm has about 10 private databases for some of its midsize to large mailers.

“If our clients feel that building a private database is a better solution for them, what we're doing is not only bringing in the data and building the database, but also building tools where the client as well as the broker has easy access to run counts,” Mallin said. “We also can overlay with infoUSA data and do modeling.”

He added that the resources available through Omaha, NE-based infoUSA were a boon to its subsidiaries.

“Our companies' strength, in conjunction with the breadth of services we own as part of infoUSA and Donnelley Marketing, is really the ability to link data and technology,” Mallin said. “Really where the industry is going is the convergence of technology and information. It is a key part of our strategy because we own all those capabilities.”

Kristen Bremner covers list news, insert media, privacy and fundraising for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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