Co-ops get down to business

Just as the major consumer cooperative databases are busy cranking out new products and services, as we reported last month (“Co-ops kick it up a notch”), so too are their business-to-business counterparts.

Co-op databases came late to the b-to-b market. Broomfield, CO-based Abacus got things started with its B2B Abacus Alliance cooperative database; launched in 1998, it is the largest of the b-to-b transactional data co-ops. Two years later, two list services firms, Greenwich, CT-based Direct Media and White Plains, NY-based MeritDirect, each introduced their own b-to-b co-op databases. With more than 1,600 files, from trade publications as well as catalogs, MeritDirect’s MeritBase is the largest overall business co-op. And last year, Costa Mesa, CA-based Experian entered the business co-op database fray with the launch of B2B Base.

Compare and contrast

Both B2B Base and the B2B Abacus Alliance are co-operative in the sense that they require participation; you can’t use the data from the other members unless you let them use your records. These two co-ops are blind, which means you don’t know the sources of the names you’re using — although in the case of Experian, B2B Base members receive a monthly listing of who else is participating.

The other major b-to-b co-ops, Direct Media’s Data Warehouse and MeritDirect’s MeritBase, are list specific: Participants can specify the sources of the names they rent and can refuse to share names with specific companies. Unlike another b-to-b database, Edith Roman’s Business Response Alliance Database (see page 60), these two databases are cooperative in that participants receive special benefits such as cost savings and optimization.

This year’s models

B2B Base launched its Site Prospecting Model in September 2004 to help mailers target the best prospects within a company’s various physical locations. According to Nicole Bartholomew, Experian’s senior product marketing manager of cooperative databases, the model profiles those company locations by looking at the sites’ characteristics, or “firmographics,” such as the number of employees.

As its name suggests, the B2B Base Individual Prospect Model, launched this past November, focuses on the individual rather than the company. It analyzes and profiles the co-op participant’s best customers to identify and score prospects in the database that look like these best buyers.

The models are free for co-op members. But Experian charges $90/M for prospect names you pull in from the co-op and $40/M for any of your own house file names that you may pull (for reactivation, for instance) because the names have been enhanced/modeled with transactional information from other mailers.

Site insights

Abacus vice president Casey Carey says that its B2B Alliance has focused its efforts during the past year on enhancing the site location data in its database and adding business-specific data points, such as maximum number of contacts mailed, as well as improving and expanding the universe of prospect names.

Abacus introduced NextResponse in December to allow b-to-b mailers to prospect deeper into existing customer site locations. By profiling current customers within a business location, mailers can look for other active buyers within the database who are at the same location and therefore most likely to respond to the offer. NextResponse costs $85/M.

Abacus followed that up in February with the launch of a site optimization model that identifies lower-performing names for replacement by higher-scoring names within the same site. “If we have what we believe to be more-responsive contacts for that site, we then replace the original name they rented with the new name,” Carey explains, “ultimately improving the response from their rented list.” The cost is $60/M.

The maximum-per-site capability, introduced in October 2004, lets mailers limit the number of mail pieces going into a single site location. If you don’t want more than, say, 10 catalogs going into sites with 100-500 employees, the model will rank the potential contacts within the site by their likelihood to respond. There is no additional charge for this feature.


In July, MeritDirect launched MeritMatch & Mercury, a response analysis system that helps mailers better comprehend the return on investment from their direct efforts and understand which portions of their lists perform best. MeritMatch provides regular match-backs between the mailers’ responder file — both coded and uncoded — and their prior mailings. MeritDirect executive vice president Blair Barondes says it provides a more complete picture of who responded to your offer from all channels.

As Barondes explains it, uncoded responders are matched back to the mail files via proprietary name, company name, or address records and algorithms that allow for pass-along from the original mailed name as well as cross-zip code matches under certain circumstances. Updated monthly, MeritMatch costs $2,500-$5,000 per month, depending on the size of the file and how often you want updates. Some larger mailers update more than once a month.

With Merit’s query tool, also launched in July, mailers can drill down to a specific list or even a specific segment, which ultimately indicates how deeply they can mail into list above break-even. Suppose that a large test of a particular list failed to provide the response needed for a return on investment. The mailer could view the results by any individual MeritBase variable.

If the mailer chose to analyze its response model, the results would show response rate and index, average dollar amount, and dollar per piece for each decile. Similarly, the mailer could explore which business sizes within that list responded at a satisfactory level and select just those portions in its next MeritBase mailing. “Even if you thought the list was an underperformer, you might be able to select 5,000-10,000 names,” says MeritDirect CEO Ralph Drybrough.

The list firm has other new products coming down the pike. This fall, MeritDirect will release what Barondes calls a “trigger flag,” which reflects recent changes to a company’s credit information. A change in a businesses’ credit data “would suggest an increased need for b-to-b products,” Barondes says.

For example, most companies that have recently added to their credit line anticipate some type of expansion. So an office furniture cataloger could use MeritDirect’s trigger flag to target companies that may be in the market for its goods.

Data evolution

While DirectMedia’s DataWarehouse has not launched any new models or services recently, it’s hardly been sitting on the sidelines. Vice president Mike Tuohy says that the database has been focusing on helping mailers crack the small office/home office (SOHO) market to reach new and emerging businesses.

“If you’re the first to mail into a new business,” says Tuohy, “you’re probably their vendor for life.” Of course, not all small businesses succeed, so to prevent merchants from sending catalogs to defunct or flagging companies, DataWarehouse brings in other data such as response files, compiled files, and controlled circulation files to help determine if a record is a viable business.

Despite the lack of “new” product per se, Tuohy says, the DataWarehouse is constantly evolving. “Basically, it is a new product when it updates each month. The biggest benefit to mailers is the flexibility of the DataWarehouse, which allows Direct Media to adjust to each user’s prospecting needs,” he says.

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And in this corner…
Number of names Number of participants Level of data on databases Cost for prospect names Cost for optimization
18 million (12 mos. only) 350+ Business contact and site $85/M $60/M
8 million businesses 65 lists Product category $90/M No cost
(Direct Media)
92 million 1,200+ lists Enhanced list rental; optimization of outside names N/A List cost plus $12/M processing fee
110 million 1,600+ lists List-specific plus demographic N/A List cost plus $11/M processing fee
Source: Schillinger Direct

What about BRAD?

Pearl River, NY-based business-to-business list services firm Edith Roman launched the Business Response Alliance Database (BRAD) last year. Though it’s a database, it’s not a co-op; rather, it’s an aggregation of multisourced lists available for rent. It consists of more than 1,000 response lists and 60 million postal records, says Greg Grdodian, Edith Roman’s vice president, list management. The database is selectable by job title, function, Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code, industry, sales volume, employee size, multibuyers, buying influence, and gender. The cost is $130/M with a minimum order of 5,000 names.

This past April, Edith Roman introduced two enhancements to the business database. The BRAD Virtual Usage Database offers access to hand-picked list segments that have proven responsive to specific types of offers including office management, small-business offers, wireless offers, and seminar/continuing-education offers to professionals. The Multichannel Database, also launched in April, offers marketers the ability to reach the same prospects via mail, e-mail and telemarketing.

Most mailers use BRAD as an unduplicated prospecting superfile, Grdodian says. Additionally, many mailers have integrated BRAD with their customer data to get a better understanding of the corporate structure so that they can use direct and e-mail marketing to penetrate more deeply into the corporations with their offers.

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