List and Data Strategies: Tips for Capturing More Data

The Internet has led to new ways of obtaining marketing data about customers, but old-school methods still work well too. In fact, best practices in capturing information usually require using a combination of strategies to maximize completeness and recency of data, says Scott Cone, vice president/client leader of Lanham, MD-based database marketing company Merkle. Here’s advice from experts on how to effectively gather information and flesh out the data you have.

Test physical and virtual kiosks

The self-response kiosk is a great way to get people to provide information about their wants and needs, says Bill Singleton, president of Algonquin, IL-based consultancy Singleton Marketing. Physical kiosks in stores and malls and at trade shows have worked as a lead-generation tool for decades. So it’s not surprising that the concept has moved to the Web in the form of online kiosks. A multititle cataloger might create a microsite where visitors can request multiple catalogs in exchange for registering some basic information. Another option is to offer first-time registrants 10% off their first order in exchange for the information.

Affinity and prequalification are key to the success of this type of data capture method. “The fishermen who give their addresses in exchange for a free lure at a boat show want the lure and will probably buy many more,” Singleton says. “They are more representative of hot prospects than subscribers to a fishing magazine, because they have taken an action that indicates their purchasing readiness.”

Don’t get greedy

Some Websites ask for a comprehensive demographic profile before they allow a visitor access to the bulk of the site. This may be an effective screening device for business-to-business Websites that want to bar consumers and other unqualified visitors — a manufacturer that sells only to certified retailers may require visitors to provide a federal tax ID number, for instance. But for most merchants, it’s more likely to lead to opt-outs than opt-ins.

Instead, your online registration form should, in most instances, be voluntary rather than mandatory. And your site should ask for just enough data for its immediate purpose — for a consumer e-newsletter subscription, for instance, that might be simply name and e-mail address — and then immediately capitalize on that information with a linked response; the linked page could then ask for more profile information from the consumer.

Give the consumer registration options A related best practice is to allow both light and heavy registration options. “For each option, it’s necessary to provide clear benefits of providing information,” says Merkle’s Cone. “The key is not to force your customer into one model or the other. It’s better to capture a larger audience first and get additional information at a later date.”

Test your online registration forms

According to Anne Holland, president of Warren, RI-based research firm MarketingSherpa, when manufacturer Siemans ran tests on numerous aspects of its Website this past fall, the tests that generated the greatest lift in response were those of the opt-in pages.

MarketingSherpa’s own tests have shown that requesting a phone number will dramatically reduce response to the registration page. By and large, however, better-known brands can get away with asking for a bit more data than their lesser-known counterparts. And, as always, if visitors think that supplying the information is in their best interests, they will. A bridal photographer told Holland that his online lead-generation form gets “more fills” when he includes a question about the visitor’s wedding date, even though that information doesn’t affect his follow-up contact with the prospect.

Make your offer legit

If you’re going to offer a customer or prospect something in exchange for his data, don’t get too carried away. If the offer is too extravagant, Holland says, the consumer will think it is fraudulent. A business-to-consumer marketer may want to give away a discount coupon, while a b-to-b merchant might look at giving away access to a white paper.

And “don’t assume an added inducement to sign up is going to increase response rates,” Holland adds. Financial education company Motley Fool had tested giving away an e-book vs. no giveaway, and the no-offer test received a higher conversion rate.

Don’t inhibit the shopping experience

The retail model is a good template for nonintrusive data capture both online and in the contact center. Ask for a little information, then back off. Ask for a little more once the customer has begun to commit to a product, and back off again.

“That is the model that I have encouraged clients to use: Wait until a sale is nearly closed and the customer is committed to the purchase before asking for personal information,” Singleton says. “When they do ask, the data capture should be quick and painless. Ill-designed forms, screens, or sequences of questions leave a bad impression with the prospect or customer whether in person in a store, on the Web, or on the phone. Judging when the customer will appreciate the need to reveal information and comply willingly will make the capture process a positive part of the interaction.”

Apply matchbacks to names

If the consumer himself won’t provide you with all the data you need, you can capture the information by matching back whatever you do have — a name, an address — to a third-party database. “Fast matchback processing from one of the national database firms can fill in any missing items overnight,” Singleton says.

Keep your data capture consistent across all channels

Your main goal is to maximize information capture across all customer touchpoints to create the best, most complete picture of the customer as possible. So if there are five things you need to know about your customer, be sure to ask the questions in the same way regardless of channel.

“Many times, different channels are asking customers for different information because they want to find out something of particular interest that applies to that channel,” says Cone. “Asking your questions consistently will in turn give you consistent data.”

Date-stamp data to ensure recency

Date-stamping involves capturing the moment information was provided, starting from when a visitor first registered or when a customer made his first purchase. The information that you have on a given customer will change over time — the college graduate who provided information six years ago is likely to have new information to report.

“As time passes, you need to assume that a portion of your information is old,” says Cone. “Data stamps can then serve as triggers for what questions you need to ask the customer.”

Use the data — quickly

Once you get the information, do something with it, such as send the consumer a thank-you note. If the recipient opens it, there’s another data point, says John Doub, director of Web engineering and application service provider accounts for e-Dialog, an e-mail services provider based in Lexington, MA. This will also allow you to start segmenting the responders vs. nonresponders.

“Response behavior is another important data point to gather for continued relevancy,” says Doub. “When the recipient opens his or her e-mail message, you can even track open and click time stamps to score when the best time of the day is to send that customer e-mails.”

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Quality vs. quantity

An obvious goal of data compilation is to find the customers and prospects most likely to respond to your offer. But often marketers forget the importance of obtaining that information cost-effectively, keeping in mind projected response rates, order sizes, and lifetime value. Or they overlook the need to obtain a critical mass of data.

For those reasons, Josh Perlstein, president of Atlanta-based marketing services firm Response Media, is wary of some online methods of data capture, such as using search marketing to attract visitors to your site and subsequently encouraging them to register.

“Merchants often build their online lead-generation campaigns around Web media, and for those marketers targeting narrow audiences such as travel or health-related segments, Web media can produce high performance metrics,” Perlstein says. “But if your goal remains to identify the most qualified customer at the best cost with the optimal volume of leads, you may want to look at co-registration to form the core of your online advertising strategy.”

Online co-registration used to be a relatively low-key proposition: Company A would agree to post on its marketing e-mails a link to and an endorsement of Company B. The co-reg partners were typically in complementary markets or had customers with similar demographics or behavior. Today co-registration usually refers to third-party packages of offers. For instance, a banner ad might say, “Want a free iPod? Click here.” The clickthrough leads to a Website that asks the visitor for personal information in exchange for the chance to enter a sweepstakes for the iPod.

A lead from a co-registration Website can cost as little as $0.25 for an e-mail address and a name, says David Rosen, a senior vice president of Loyalty Lab, a San Francisco-based developer of customer loyalty programs. The more information the consumer submits, the higher the cost per lead. But while co-registration may provide you with more data at a lower cost than a search marketing effort, the quality of the names may not be as high, depending on the affinity of the offer that attracted the visitor to your business.

Also, “make sure the sites where your co-registration appears gather information from consumers who have explicitly given permission for you to use personal information to market products and services to them,” Perlstein says. “These sites and networks also need to have in place strong and specific consumer privacy protection policies.” And be sure that association with your co-reg partners won’t sully your brand in any way. For instance, if you sell family-friendly DVDs, you don’t want to partner with a supplier of Girls Gone Wild-type entertainment.

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