The increase in demand for data intelligence is one of the significant trends among b2b marketers looking to better engage customers and move them through the sales cycle. However, obtaining enhanced-quality data across multiple channels can be difficult and expensive.
BtoB spoke with three b2b marketers—Brian Huck, circulation and database manager at Day-Timer, a catalog marketer of personal time management and organization tools; Chris Verlander, director of marketing services, U.S. & Canada, at Eastman Kodak Co.; and Jim Wessel, circulation director at b2b publisher Watt Publishing Co.—in a telephone roundtable to discuss the cost and value of deeper data, effective strategies for obtaining those data and strategy adjustments in the face of the weakened economy.
BtoB: What are the overall trends you see in the list business?
Chris Verlander: One of the things that I have noticed is, and this is not a value statement, but the lists are getting increasingly expensive. The most effective campaigns that we run are multichannel or integrated, so we are leveraging personalized direct mail, mixed with email, pURLs [personalized URLs] or Web and some outbound telemarketing components. We see lead rates in the range of 12% to 15% when we use a number of channels for a campaign. To do that effectively, you need a lot more than just the name, title and address. When we start these campaigns, we get these lists where we get a lot of dropoff right away if we don't have phone numbers or if we don't have the emails, for example. To have that level of information is expensive. It's hard to get data that deep, and our strategy is to build on the marketing database and augment it with data from third parties where it makes sense.
Brian Huck: I would agree that it makes the whole process more expensive. You need a keener eye on being able to evaluate your ROI on that at the list level, at the campaign level—more than I think the industry has in the past.
As a provider of our list to others, we are seeing a bit of an increase in demand for that data and that kind of depth of data, not only for that purpose—the revenue generation portion—but to further enhance and to maximize every contact we have with our customers.
We are trying to build into our regular communications opportunities to obtain that depth of data from our customers through better engagement across all channels. We capture that information and keep it in a database so that we can utilize it—primarily utilize it for ourselves, but obviously it's an enhancement to what we can provide to others as well.
The only downside that I have seen thus far with truly variable data printing is the ability to have it priced at a rollout level. We can afford it for test quantities of 25,000, maybe 50,000, and really get good response; but what if you want to roll that out to the masses of a 100,000 or 200,000 quantity list? It's a little hard to do that [cost-effectively].
Verlander: There is the technology to do that. It's here now, and it's getting better. A lot of the variable data print that you see today is done using "electrophotographic" toner on a digital press. But the emerging technology, what has been around for a while in the transactional space, is high-speed, continuous inkjet and color. A lot of the financial companies [are using it]; when you are getting your statements or your invoice, you will start to see promotional messaging attached to that.
Jim Wessel: As a list owner, we are experiencing about 9% growth in renting our lists. Both direct mail and email have increased over the past year with email showing the most growth at 20%. The key to the growth has been attributed to being part of a much larger cooperative database. Our list rental broker combines our data along with others in our industry to form a cooperative database. Instead of renting 10,000 or 15,000 [names] with just my lists, clients can purchase larger lists in our industry from one location. The list rental broker also appends additional data within the cooperative database to make it more valuable.
BtoB: What are some of your strategies for procuring data?
Wessel: Our data is driven from our magazine products. We strive to maintain 100% requested subscribers to our products to ensure the highest quality of data. We telemarket and broadcast email to our customers to renew their subscription every year to keep their information up to date.
We have phased out tipping a subscription form for renewal to the cover of our magazines because of low returns and because we did not want to cover up the cover of the magazine. We are also phasing out direct mail as a requalification source because more and more people are going to the Web to renew.
I'm using our data the same as someone would by renting our list. With direct mail, I'm sending magazine products on a monthly basis. With telemarketing, I'm using the very same numbers to update the subscribers' information, and as far as email, I'm using broadcast email for subscription renewal, plus we use our emails to deliver the many digital products we offer.
Huck: It has always been important, but it's increasingly important to try to establish good quality, well-rounded and complete relationships with your list manager or brokers as much as possible so that they are |really in sync with everything you want to do in multiple channels.
Verlander: The currency of the data is still key. We recognize that to build data that's quite deep in terms of content is a lot of work, but for some of these lists we are buying, the last refresh could have been up to 12 months ago. We are still seeing a lot of dropout. I think overall it's still too expensive. I am sure folks on the list side can easily justify the value, but from somebody managing a budget looking at those kinds of dollars, that means we have to work really hard to define a campaign and an anticipated ROI to justify that initial investment.
BtoB: Many marketers are moving away from renting straight lists for one-time use in favor of using cooperative databases or licensing databases. Is that true?
Huck: We do pretty much a straight rental within a controlled environment [through our list manager] where we can block and others can block [certain names]. It's not truly a cooperative like the Abacus or NextAction [traditional cooperative database] environments.
BtoB: What are the big challenges you are facing right now as a list owner?
Huck: Matching back to the channel as close as we possibly can. [For example,] you send out direct mail, and 20% to 30% are ordering from your Web site and you may or may not be tracking to a specific key code or to a specific campaign. It's crucial to continue to refine the match-back logic that we use. We are looking at the individual who made the purchase and then allocating that purchase back to the campaign. That's something that we have got to continue to get better at, and it's really unique for each business.
I think that's another reason you are seeing an increased desire for variable data printing. If you have someone with a personalized URL and you are incentivizing them to go and see their customized page, the tracking is built into that. You take the guesswork out of it.
Wessel: From a list owner perspective, the biggest challenge is keeping up on the emails. One key area is to know which source to use when cleansing bounces against our main database. Every vendor and/or message will produce different results. The second key is managing customer preferences. As a safety net, our list rental vendor spends the time to make sure the email subscribers opt in to any offers before renting them.
Verlander: Integrating a lot of the systems on the back end is very challenging, so if we're deploying email through Yesmail, if we're deploying pURLs through Mindfire, if we are deploying variable data print through a print service provider, bringing those metrics back into an integrated system that can cough up metrics easily is tough. There is a lot of manual work that goes on behind the scenes to build the scorecards and the metrics.
One of the things we are looking at right now is layering an MRM tool set on top of what we are doing. We're working with Aprimo. It's brand new for us, so we are in an exploratory phase.
BtoB: What are some of the big opportunities you see this year?
Wessel: Our goal is to continue to expand our email databases with quality emails. The more quality data we can bring to the table for the cooperative database, the better all of us will be.
Huck: While the industry has been asking for more depth in data, I think it's being provided in many cases. It's just rethinking in some ways how we use it: for example, really looking at prospect files in the same way as you would segment your house file in the curation of your overall circulation plan. You want to know what you have available to you, and really plan and look at the response of certain selects and certain segments at different times of the year. You want to build that into the circulation plan and plan the time it's mailed and remailed … in much of the same way as you would in looking at your house file from an RFM perspective. It's not new, but some of the tools that are there enable us to look in real-time into our provider's database and run what-if and other scenarios.
Verlander: Lead nurturing is something that we need to do and want to do more. We have been very good at prospecting campaigns and generating qualified leads for the sales force and the sales channels to follow up on. We have an opportunity to do a better job nurturing, [as well as] lead scoring and ranking.
We want to do more nurturing, and one of the ways we will do that is using emails. Email certainly has its challenges in b2b, and I don't think anything changes ultimately about delivering value in terms of content.
BtoB: Speaking of which, is email proving effective for you in terms of both customer retention and customer acquisition?
Huck: Email primarily is a retention tool and an engagement tool for our current customers, but no longer can anyone ignore or not look at it as a potential prospecting tool or at least as something to test. You definitely will see a lot more of that in the coming year.
The quality issues are still there, but I think the things that have made people rethink [email] are the other costs that are influencing that decision. The increasing cost to get something in the U.S. mail has made people take another look and rethink the email and the acquisition strategy.
Verlander: It's more than just "push" emails delivering content. We are trying to invite a dialogue. We are trying to use it more as a two-way communication.
But the reality is even with all the spam filters and everything else, it's just one channel. The power is with the customers today. They are designing how they want to access the company.
Emails are not without their challenges. We just did a mailing of 950, and we had a 36% bounce [rate], 47% open [rate], 5% click-through and 1% opt out. That's a high bounce, and I think a lot of that was bad email addresses. In reality, it's probably 15%. But even rough math says that 50% is getting through. What about the other 50%? Direct mail has a role, and again it comes back to choices and different channels.
Wessel: Email is proving effective for retention and acquisition. We use broadcast email for subscription renewal, and the numbers are still climbing. We continue to grow our email databases through the many digital online products we offer. Chris, your bounce rate of 36% is way too high. I would take another look at where your data came from. I would say 10% is probably more the norm. Many of my lists can perform below a 5% bounce.
BtoB: Are there specific technologies or programs that you are taking advantage of now that are being provided by your list partners?
Huck: The list managers are trying to become more full providers of various services, and I think it makes sense—assuming you have a relationship and they do understand your business and they can then suggest new services in your best interest, rather than just trying to sell it.
[Marketers are] lacking the time and the key positions to get it all done. I think that's where they are coming in and they are trying to fill the void. With regard to overall circulation planning and that kind of thing, they are trying to continually take the place of the marketing departments and fill the bench a little bit from what is not there.
One thing too that allows that to happen a little more is that information is more readily available and easily transferable back and forth. We can all get on and look at the same stuff, the same data at the same time, and discuss decisions easily.
Verlander: D&B is courting us right now on their Market Insight [data analytics product], which is a new user friendly GUI [graphical user interface] to access the data that we are buying and appending to our database. Anything that makes data more accessible for a wider audience is appealing.
From a list broker or a data broker perspective … the guys that are most successful are starting with: "What is it that you are trying to do and how can we help you build what you are looking for rather than simply providing lists?"
BtoB: Do you feel that the present economic climate changes any of your strategy this year in terms of list strategy?
Verlander: I don't know if it's specific to what we will do or not do with lists, but I'll say this: The strategy this year is growth, and the notion of a down market has only accelerated our focus on growth. It sounds corny, but we are only focused on growing our way through this year. All it has done is reaffirm our commitment to growing and being very aggressive in a tough year. If that means will we be buying more data, perhaps yes. But it's not retrenchment.
Huck: Overall, the economic conditions definitely are going to impact things. [In addition,] paper and postage continue to drive certain cost considerations, so from a list perspective and an overall marketing perspective, it's going to affect the selects. We are going to be a lot more specific and a little less test-heavy because of some of the other conditions that are out there.
It will force us to look at everything and leverage spending across PR and across every other alternate media that we've got: insert media, email, search campaigns.
We will continue to prospect in a similar range but really look at how to further expand the reach. I think the climate is forcing [us to] look at that a little bit more than in perhaps previous years.
|BtoB Special Report: List Management|