Q&A: Rod Ford, president and CEO, CognitiveData

Rod Ford, president and CEO of Merkle subsidiary CognitiveData, a marketing services company, explains why digital will never be a standalone media and why marketing cadence is just as important as segmentation. 

Direct Marketing News (DMN): It’s been about six months since CognitiveData acquired Lenser. What have you been able to accomplish in that time?

Rod Ford (CognitiveData): We purchased them to be able to integrate strategy into our database solution. We have a customer insight and contact management platform for specialty retailers. A lot of those clients were asking for strategy capabilities. They wanted to know how to utilize the platform more efficiently. We wanted to bundle and package strategy into our database offering. We’ve done that. It’s been very successful.

DMN: Companies strive to be valued in the eyes of consumers. But your services are designed to also enable companies to also appropriately value consumers. Can you talk about why this is important?

Ford: This evolution originally started with the increase in costs-to-promote, including postage, paper and print price increases. Marketers began to look at their own customer base and tried to find ways to extract more value out of existing customers as opposed to heavily prospecting. A lot of dollars were redirected into understanding the value of existing customers. This started the evolution of CRM post-2006. The ability to manage your customers, have the analytics to segment them in different ways and promote to them differently, and have an intimate dialogue with them is how the business has changed. Everyone must have a CRM platform to manage data in a highly accurate environment, analyze the data, and see the customers changing over time.

DMN: A plethora of customer data is being generated on social media. What can companies like yours do to help brands capture that information?

Ford: Social media is just a feed that’s available to come into the database. If you have a database designed for that, then social is just a feed like Web analytics, email and mail campaigns. You can use it as a well-designed database to manage those feed attributes coming off social. You capture them and assign them to a particular customer. You can use them for event-driven campaigns or attributes that feed into the model for scoring.

DMN: You recently wrote that you’re bullish on direct mail. Can you explain a few of the reasons why digital might not be the magical cure-all that marketers make it out to be?

Ford: It’s all about integrated marketing. Digital as a standalone will not bear itself out to be a standalone replacement media. What we see in our business is that direct mail is the foundation. It’s compulsory, it’s a requirement for any sustainable marketing program, but it’s not the highest growth area. Our customers’ direct mail programs are growing in single digits while digital is exploding. But you have to have direct mail in place to make digital explode. But it’s certainly true that digital aspects are the major growth areas.

DMN: What’s next for CognitiveData?

Ford: We’re spending more money and effort on innovation than we ever have. It’s innovation in customer insight platforms. People want to see better targeting. We’re investing in contact stream optimization, which has been built into our last two database installs. New [contact stream optimization] innovations will be generally available by the end of December. At an individual level, it’s designed to determine the proper cadence for each individual consumer. You as a consumer may maximize your spend when you get three emails followed by a catalog. I may prefer three catalogs and an email. We can analyze and set up cadences at an individual level as opposed to segmentation for larger groups.

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