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The New Supercharged Database

Pooling data that goes beyond demographics and toward affinities.



By Jill Ambroz
02/27/2009

The game is changing from push to pull marketing and the smart publishers are the ones capitalizing on this movement; meeting readers in all of their different chosen venues and even anticipating their next moves. And with mail lists declining, targeting the most profitable customer has never been more important.

To do this, publishers need a different kind of database—not one based on traditional demographics but one that is based on the behavioral patterns of consumers and their engagement with brands. The savviest of marketers are generating leads from their new über-databases to cross-sell and upsell across the enterprise.

“This is more relevant today as marketers are interacting with customers, whether through acquisition or customer relationship management, they’re doing all of that via multiple channels now,” says Bart Surrick, vice president of strategic services for Alliant Cooperative Data Solutions. “Knowing how a customer was sourced, what channels they’re interacting with and their behavior is all more important now. The strongest evolution of the database is the ability of marketers to interact via different channels. The people who will be successful are the ones with access to data in one place and those who have the chops to understand the data.”

Publishers are taking their decentralized databases—which could easily run past 100 different data sources for a mid-size company—and building that data into one supercharged database. It’s critical to have that information reside in one place to be able to track and analyze a consumer’s many moves and, in turn, market more effectively to them.

The Homegrown Hit

One company that’s already enjoying success from its centralized lead-generation database is IDG. The multi-billion-dollar tech company thrives on a decentralized environment, so the process hasn’t been an easy one, according to Frank Cutitta, general manager of IDGConnect, the company’s centralized database and resource library. While still growing and evolving, it now has about 6 million contacts in it, including about 2 million opt-in, e-mailable names. The database has contributed to 100 percent business growth to the company and its lead generation business over the past three years.

IDG built its database two years ago in-house from scratch, leveraging a home-grown database from Computerworld. “If you’re going to do it homegrown,” Cutitta advises, “make sure that you have the wherewithal from a staffing point of view with the database department to grow in an exponential way with a lot of complexities.”

One of the biggest challenges for IDG has been data normalization. With data pouring in from numerous disparate databases, data hygiene is of the utmost importance. The silver lining is that by cleaning up a lot of the typographical errors, such as e-mail addresses with dot.co instead of dot.com, IDG has been able to recover thousands of names for a fraction of the price of going out and soliciting new names, Cutitta says.

IDG was also looking for a competitive advantage in the increasingly ROI-driven advertising and marketing investments in publishing when it created IDGConnect. It also recognized a smart way to build on its brands by using the consumers’ affinities for its products as currency. In that way, IDGConnect stands apart from some of the third-party, name-harvesting operations out there that don’t have any related affinities on consumers—a key factor behind behavioral marketing and the ability to predict the likelihood that a consumer will respond to any given campaign or product.

Platinum Leads

IDG slices and dices across its vast network to deliver what it calls its “platinum business card leads”: a name, address, phone, title, some information on the company and its size and function. And some leads include more vertical information, depending on the market, Cutitta says. These leads can command top dollar—IDG prices its leads for its clients from $50 per lead up to more than $1,000 for the most comprehensive—but there is a slippery slope here.

The challenge isn’t merely list fatigue, but publishers have to start enforcing some rules upon themselves and showing some restraint when it comes to frequency of mailing to contacts. “People start counting the cash and then the next thing people unsubscribe and your business asset, your database and those names, start evaporating. You have to find the sweet spot for how much mail they’ll accept,” Cutitta says.

That’s where IDG starts appending those files with behavioral profiles and affinities to carve out new opportunities. “For example, we know this person likes white papers on virtualization and Webcasts on network security and as we get more sophisticated, we populate their record with things they’ve done with IDG assets and it gives us the future ability to mail with laser focus with the highest probability to engage on those assets,” Cutitta says.

IDG has developed what it calls an “engagement intensity index,” a kind of data scoring system. It all hinges upon the quality of the content and knowing the attributes of the content, Cutitta says. In addition to the attributes, the index takes into consideration the frequency of action and nature of people downloading them and puts that into the score. That’s when you get a very behaviorally-driven lead, he says. For example, if a person had downloaded three high-impact assets, such as white papers, then the lead goes to the sales department to call upon the customer immediately.

“There are certain things people would only read if they’re getting close to purchasing a product, like a PowerPoint presentation for people not in the board room,” Cutitta says. “We’re able to tell people what their content looks like and do gap analysis based on these audits.” IDG then will make recommendations, á la the Amazon model: if you read this article, you might also be interested in this one. In that way, IDG is able to fill out a customer’s “curriculum” by peppering in all sorts of content from across the IDG brands.

Working with a Vendor

Questex Media Group Inc., a b-to-b publisher based in Newton, Massachusetts, is on a similar mission. The company, which covers a plethora of markets, from hospitality to natural resources, is in the midst of converting all of its far-flung databases into a single enterprise database and is about a month away from a live launch. The company is using its fulfillment partner, Hallmark Data Systems, to manage the process instead of doing it in-house because it was the least expensive approach and because much of the database already resides with that partner, says Questex director of circulation and audience development Heidi Spangler. She says good fulfillment bureaus are already tracking and analyzing behavioral data but that it’s important to be with a fulfillment company that sees itself primarily as a data company and not simply a magazine subscription company.

Spangler estimates that the finished database will house hundreds of thousands of contacts, possibly up to a million, all accessible to Questex through its Web-query system and an online interface. But, again, it’s not about the quantity of contacts, it’s the quality. “If you have a list of 25,000 people in the industry, the more we know about them and target the message, you can send it out to fewer people but still get the same number of clicks because they are reaching the right person,” she says. “You make sure you’re sending a relevant message and don’t worry about the open click rate because you’re sending it to the cream of the crop.”

Questex was actually already doing a lot of the manual matching on the back-end, Spangler says, and she believes converting to a single database will save on circulation development costs and acquisition costs.

Through this process, she says she is learning more about her customer files than she has ever known before. It’s also teaching the company new ways to approach its customers. “It used to be when we would develop the audience, we’d try to get a subscriber on the magazine list and go from there,” says Spangler. “Now, we identify someone in the industry the appropriate product for them, which may not be print. We find most of our audience members are getting more than one of our products. Instead of trying to force them to take the magazine to code them, it’s a different approach.”

SIDEBAR

5 Best Practices for Getting the Most out of the New Breed of Databases

• Pre-populate registration forms from the database for customers downloading products like white papers or Webinars. IDG does this and has noticed a stronger clickthrough rate because of it.

• Consider using an e-mail reputation manager, such as Habeas or Return Path, which can trouble-shoot why e-mails from the database are getting held up. It’s an enormous challenge to get new names now so the small investment to rehab dead names is well worth it.

• Bad content will beget no leads, says IDG’s Frank Cutitta. Don’t fall into the trap of putting format before content, like throwing together a Webinar that would have made a better white paper.

• Meet the customer in their preferred channels. You can grow your market share by delivering the content in the desired format instead of clinging to the print-centric mindset.

• Do extensive planning before implementing new database features or when converting to a centralized database. If you don’t plan ahead for something and it pops up late in the game, it may not be a simple fix.

By Jill Ambroz
02/27/2009







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