How to Take Control of Database Marketing

So you don’t have a Ph.D. in computer science. You can’t write a 100-line string of SQL code or pull off a left outer join in a relational database.

Yes, database marketing is approaching mind-boggling sophistication. But the tools to get the job done are actually becoming easier to use. So easy, in fact, that there’s no reason database marketers everywhere shouldn’t take control of their own destiny.

So if you’re a marketer, leave SQL to IT and claim the upper hand when it comes to database marketing. Here are a few tips on how to take control.

Demand access to your data
First, demand that your IT department integrate all your marketing information into a single data repository. This includes campaign history, response information, and even e-mail and online data.

You’re right if you think many marketing departments have attempted this, and even made some progress. But, many integrated databases contain only summary-level information. To conduct real data exploration, this is not enough. You also need to integrate detailed information—every row, every cell out there.

Next, you need a way to get to all that data—a user interface that is built for marketers. Technology providers and service providers have developed visual drag and drop, point and click gauges to simplify otherwise complicated database marketing techniques.

What’s the pay off? As a marketer, you can access data on your own terms. You can pursue a train of thought without losing steam. You can drill down into a data segment, compare it to another segment, create a model and score your entire database, and test your assumptions, and if you need to, change your mind and start from scratch.

You may even find some surprises along the way. For example, a major cable provider ran a profile of its customers and discovered subscription fraud. Some of its business subscribers were posing as residential customers to secure a cheaper rate. By having access to the data, the provider was able to find the offending customers and correct the subscriptions.

Finish what you start
These days, audience segmentation goes far beyond demographics and psychographics. Smart companies are tracking personal preferences for channel use, messaging, and even creative design.

Sophisticated analytical models identify subtle differences in consumer behavior and tighter ranges in predictability. And reporting tools are continually discovering new patterns as past campaigns are studied and transactions are processed.

As a result, companies may have up to 500 segments to target in any campaign. These segments further define audiences by channel use, messaging, purchase history, profitability, creditworthiness, and hundreds of other criteria.

But all this great detail can often get lost in the transition between data discovery and campaign execution.

The problem: database marketing is often an unnecessarily siloed endeavor. Companies tend to use one technology for analytics and another for campaign management. So after a marketing analyst has created a tightly defined audience for a campaign, a campaign manager must recreate these segments using different software once the campaign transitions to the execution phase.

To ensure accuracy with the recommendations of the marketing analyst, the campaign manager must compare the selection specifications and counts, to audit the data files. This takes considerable time, and almost always, something gets lost in translation. It’s like the classic game of telephone. Each iteration compromises the original message’s accuracy. The output does not match the input.

So, here again, you might assume that organizations have long since standardized their database marketing technology on a single technology. But most haven’t. And the reason is that different departments own different parts of database marketing. They have their own staff, their own processes and their own tools.

So, another appropriate task for IT is to integrate these separate modes and then to connect them all to the same integrated database, which they just released to you.

Don’t rest until you can create a data segment with your hands and effortlessly drag that selection into a campaign management tool for execution. Nothing will be lost, and you’ll be on to the next leg of the campaign in seconds.

Take charge
Database marketing functions best when they are formulated and implemented by the people directly responsible for the marketing campaigns. A technology shift is under way to give marketers tools they can understand and master. This puts control back in the hands of marketers. It’s now their job to take it.

David Eldridge is CEO of Alterian, a provider of integrated database marketing, customer insight and marketing execution solutions. Alterian’s North America headquarters is in Chicago.

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