Improvements in technology will mean mail, mailing lists and list management will change from what we know them as today. A wave of trends is brewing, and this year you'll see the first ripples.
For starters, most of us work with databases every day. Databases offer a list of names, addresses, phone numbers and various other facts: words on paper, on labels or on computers. That's standard. What possible surprises could 1999 unveil?
Just imagine if a list of businesses also came with a four-color picture of each storefront. Or if each record contained a video tour, so you could hear from the owner and see what's inside the business without ever leaving your desk? This video technology is happening today, and is creating the first generation of three-dimensional databases to hit the marketplace.
The multimedia database gives list managers the ability to offer enhanced content to traditional list sales. Now marketers can see what the business looks like before they ever spend money marketing to them. Salespeople can qualify their prospects better and faster than before, cutting down on costly travel or mailing expenses.
List managers have another sophisticated list enhancement trend to contend with in the near future — keeping track of how people buy. It used to be that when a consumer bought something through the mail, his name was put on a list and sold. Now buying is being initiated through television, space ads, phone solicitation and e-commerce on the Internet. Database companies and list brokers already offer databases titled: Mail-Order Buyers/Responders. The trend will move toward databases titled: Responders to E-Mail Offers or People who Buy off the Internet.
Let's take it one step further and apply the content of how a person buys to every list. With this scenario, marketers will be able to determine the best way to reach each person they are trying to target; i.e. with print ads, catalogs, direct mail, e-mail and television. Marketing materials will consist of fewer quantities distributed among a wider range of media. Contact rates will jump to numbers never before achieved and waste will be virtually eliminated.
Offering enhanced content like videos and preferred buying method will become extremely profitable for list managers, database companies and the marketers using the data. If we are serious about being direct marketers, we must provide the right information companies need in order to reach the right people with the right media. It is the future of our business.
The crystal ball of the future clearly shows the Internet as a key part of our future. Remember when telemarketing was going to be the end of direct mail? The same has been said about the Internet. But actually direct mail has increased because people are using it to advertise their Web sites. With the advent of things like the Internet, you can do more with conventional data, such as adding sound and pictures to create multimedia databases.
It also allows us to apply the principals of one-to-one relationship marketing and use Web sites as a powerful tool. For example, a company's Web site can ask users what they like and what they're looking for. A trigger service will then take that predetermined list of circumstances and automatically send the data. For direct marketers, updates of brand new businesses that match a marketer's prospect list can be sent automatically. Information is personalized to what the user wants and is given without the user having to search for it.
There already is the trend toward purchasing lists and building databases through the Internet. Soon it will be the most widely used method of data retrieval. By the end of this year, more businesses will be accessing the Internet for lists. Marketers will become very savvy Internet users and prefer the interactive, do-it-yourself database management. Especially when data can be maintained and updated in real time.
Real-time updates are not only conceivable, they are being done right now through database management products where data feeds originate from anywhere in the world and are applied instantly to the database. No more sending in quarterly or monthly tapes to your database marketing company and waiting for your update.
Look for this technology to be applied to the Internet be the end of this year. Every marketer can have access 24 hours a day, seven days a week to real-time databases and daily updates.
By embracing the trends and rejoicing the coming of a revolution, we are improving the direct marketing industry. It's going to keep changing, and we have to raise our glasses and cheer, “Out with the old, in with the new.”
Sheldon Zaslansky is president of Walter Karl Companies, Greenwich, CT, a division of infoUSA.