Live from DMA World Seattle: “Change Is Your Friend”

Seattle—It’s human nature to be wary of change. But according to Ted Wham, chief privacy officer/general manager of online travel marketer Expedia.com, “change is your friend as a direct marketer. It gives you the subtext and context to communicate with your customers.”

During his luncheon keynote address at DMA World Seattle on April 6, Wham outlined a five-step plan for making dollars out of change:

1) Identify the portion of your business that is highly volatile. For BabyCenter, which sells merchandise for baby and pre- and postnatal women, what changes is the stage of the customers’ pregnancy and their babies’ ages; for Amazon.com, it’s the merchandise mix that is constantly changing.

2) Determine what information you need from the customer to determine his interest in the element of your business that is volatile. Amazon uses customers’ buying history—if a customer bought the first five “Harry Potter” books, Amazon’s not taking much of a risk in assuming he’ll be interested in the sixth. Charles Schwab knows that changes in jobs and employment status spur many consumers to change their investment strategies, so it looks for that sort of information.

3) Collect the necessary information. The three tried-and-true sources, Wham said, are appended data; declared-interest data, such as survey results; and observed-interest data, such as Web analytics and customer history records.

4) “Identify and harness the ‘step-function’ changes in product data”—in other words, finesse the necessary data points from your database.

5) Use the changes to trigger the communication. If Charles Schwab knows that John Doe is approaching retirement, for instance, it could use that change as a reason to send Doe a relevant letter or offer; Amazon, of course, will use the publication of the sixth “Harry Potter” book to e-mail an offer to customers who bought any of the previous tomes.

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