There’s a count that’s sucking your blood. No, it’s not Count Dracula. I’m talking about mailing list counts. Slow counts are sucking the lifeblood out of your direct marketing programs.
When prospecting for new customers with direct marketing, you generally need to rent mailing lists. But you don’t usually rent the whole list. You order the subset of the list that matches your target audience.
For example, when ordering from a list of doctors, you might select the subset of doctors that are brain surgeons practicing in New Hampshire. So the question is… How many names meet your criteria?
To get this count, somebody has to run a database query to get the answer to your question.
Time for a pop quiz: How long does it take to get the count?
Believe it or not, 2 days is the industry standard. I know what you are thinking… “No way! It only takes 2 seconds to run that simple query!” You’d be right about that. But this was a trick question. I didn’t ask you how long it takes to run the query. Instead, I asked how long it takes to get your answer.
So why does it take 2 days to get your answer? The slow turnaround is a result of a series 0f delays in the process… So let’s review the process
First, the mailer asks the broker for a count. It sits in the broker’s inbox or voice mail for an hour or two.
Then the broker reviews and refines the request and forwards it to the list manager. The request again sits for an hour or two.
The list manager forwards this to their counts person. This person may be on staff or at a service bureau. Again this request sits in a queue for a couple of hours before it gets serviced.
The counts person then configures the query
runs the count
and sends the result back to the list manager. This process only takes a couple of minutes. But again the answer sits in the list manager’s inbox for a couple of hours.
The list manager then reviews the results for accuracy. In many cases, the count is off and we have to rerun with different criteria. However, let’s assume this is acceptable and so it gets forwarded on to the list broker. Again this sits in the list broker’s queue for a couple of hours.
The list broker then has to review and incorporate the count result into their recommendation along with the counts from all the other lists in their recommendation. The chance that at least one of these counts is delayed is very high.
Then finally, the broker sends the counts with the recommendations back to the mailer.
With all the delays and hiccups, this process typically takes two days!
Why is this process so slow? It’s disconnected from the workflow. It’s a low priority because nobody makes any money running counts. It’s error-prone, time-consuming, and disruptive. It’s just very difficult to manage.
What do slow counts cost you?
It drives up your personnel expenses. The slow service makes you look bad and forces hasty decisions. Those bad decisions hurt the performance of your direct marketing campaigns which lowers your revenue which, in turn, lowers your return on marketing investment. All of this combined reduces the demand for your services, which puts you into a viscous cycle of lower profits and reduced service.
What’s missing is infrastructure.
What’s missing is a bridge between the data card and the data. Data cards are central to the daily workflow of list brokers and list managers. They use data cards all day every day to get their job done. If we bridge the gap between data cards and the data, then we will dramatically streamline the workflow
Consider the data card. If we add a counts button to the data card, then it would enable buyers to request counts electronically in a consistent way.
And because the count requests are electronic they can be handled efficiently and tracked automatically. In most cases, the query can be run automatically once approved.
The result of this technology is a dramatically streamlined process that cuts turnaround time to hours, minutes, or even seconds!
This simple act of streamlining counts has many benefits. It will drive down your personnel expenses. The fast service makes you look good and enables better decisions. Those good decisions will improve the performance of your direct marketing campaigns which increases your revenue which, in turn, increases your return on marketing investment. All of this combined increases the demand for your services which now puts you into a virtuous cycle of higher profits and improved service.
This technology isn’t some far off pipe dream.
NextMark Select is the name of this technology… and it’s very real. And it will soon be available to you. Stay tuned.
NextMark reached a big milestone today. We've successfully connected a data card with the underlying mailing list data:
Why is this a big deal?
First, this technology will transform a process that takes up to 48 hours to complete into one that only takes a couple of seconds. Besides the dramatic improvement in turnaround time, there are lots of other benefits that will enable more effective and efficient marketing programs.
Second, we are not just connecting one data card to one list. This is a test of a platform that will potentially connect all 60,000+ data cards to the underlying lists in a super-secure and reliable way. Now, that's the really cool part.
This is not yet generally available, but soon will be. The development team is cranking. This new technology is slated for release in the second quarter 2009.
"When Merkle CEO David Williams looks back at 2008, he sees something positive among all the relatively dismal economic news: the acceleration of database marketing's evolution. "The wind was at many [database marketers'] backs for a decade," he says. "Now, they're saying to themselves, 'If the economic climate or the consumer climate is going to get difficult, I'm going to have to be more innovative, I'm going to have to be more effective.'"
"Integration, Williams believes, is the key concept surrounding all of these ongoing efforts. Generally, integration has long been the goal of direct marketing, but to improve cost-effectiveness and ensure results, Williams and other experts say database sector firms must also integrate their services to improve cost-effectiveness and ensure continued strong results."
Integration across channels has been happening. Another form of integration is now emerging -- integration among marketing service providers. Different service providers working closely together to deliver a seamless solution to marketers.
Running counts is an intrinsic part of the mailing listrental process. In most cases, you don't want to order all the names on a mailing list. Instead, you only want to order a targeted subset of a list (e.g. "only those with the job title of CIO with an address in New England and employee size greater than 100"). This naturally leads to the question "how many names meet my criteria?" This is what's known as a count request.
Servicing these count requests should be quick and easy, right? Unfortunately, that's not the case today.
I've been interviewing list companies to explore the process of servicing these counts requests. I have found that the industry standard is to turn around count requests within 48 hours. This means that the requester (usually a list broker) has to wait up to 48 hours before they get their answer back. This process is repeated until a suitable quantity is selected.
Why does it take 48 hours to get a count?
48 hours seems like an extraordinarily long time for a relatively quick and easy task. After all, in many cases, it takes less than 5 seconds to run a count query. But delays are introduced by the process through which these requests are handled. Nobody gets paid for running a count and, as a result, servicing real orders takes priority over servicing count requests. The count requests and associated responses get queued up at the list manager and service bureau. It only takes a few minutes to service the request, but each step may take hours due to the delay in getting to the request in the queue.
The price you pay for slow counts
Ask any list broker and they'll unload their frustration in getting answers to count requests. Many brokers agree, "it would be wonderful just to get an answer the same day!" Getting the count is a barrier to a sale. To make matters worse, their client doesn't understand why it takes "so darn long to get an answer to a simple question." So, the list broker appears incompetent and makes no money waiting on counts.
Every list company employs people who spend part of their time or all of their time chasing down counts. One list company executive told me "85% of my people get involved with servicing count requests." This is very expensive when you consider the full cost of your employees' time (salary, benefits, office space, etc.). But it's even more expensive when you consider the opportunity cost of taking time away from selling and providing value added services to your clients (by the way, no client sees running a count as a value added service).
The other less tangible problem -- but perhaps more economically significant -- is the impact on marketing effectiveness caused by slow counts. With the current process, it's virtually impossible to perform "what if" analysis on list segments. To meet deadlines, you place your order when you get "in the ballpark" of your desired target audience. This attitude certainly reduces response rates and return on marketing investments.
Why existing online counts systems don't work
Some enterprising service bureaus have built interfaces that enable list managers to run their own counts online. This is a great idea for the service bureaus because it eliminates their cost and delays in this process.
However, these online systems provided by service bureaus do not solve the problem because they do not address the root of the problem -- efficient request handling. List brokers cannot configure and submit counts requests efficiently and the requests still get queued up at the list manager. So, the process is still slow. In fact, the 48 hours turnaround standard actually assumes that the list manager has access to online counts systems for a significant portion of their count requests.
List managers don't want to use all these different counts systems. In addition to their own data card and order entry systems, they have to log into all these other systems to run their counts - a different one for every service bureau they work with. Some list companies work with 20 service bureaus or more! Not only is it a hassle to learn and use all these different systems, the chances of making a mistake are almost a sure thing.
Connecting data cards to the data
List brokers and list managers rely on data cards as the standard way of exchanging information about a mailing list. Many data cards contain static counts of key segments. However, today's data cards are disconnected from the underlying data.
Connecting data cards to the data through a universal counts interface could be the "silver bullet" that solves this problem:
Imagine... your data cards now have a "get count" button on them. You press this button and your system brings up a simple interface for running counts. This button works the same way for all of your lists -- regardless of where the data is located.
Imagine... the answers to your count requests are returned quickly and automatically included in your list recommendations and orders.
Imagine... all your count requests are tracked automatically for you.
How great would that be? It would virtually eliminate all the hassles associated with the counts process and make you a better (and more profitable) service provider.
How NextMark is addressing this problem
Solving this problem is looking like the next "big thing" for NextMark. Providing fast counts is a high-profile project in our research and development department. Here are some of the main design principles:
Easy. The counts interface will be "so easy even a caveman could use it"
Quick. Asking for a list count will only take a couple of button clicks. Running the list count should be quick. Integrating the result with your reco/order will be automatic. Sending the result to your client will be a click away.
Free. You won't have to pay for running counts. After all, nobody makes money on counts. And, even better than free, you'll eliminate all the costs associated with running counts the old way.
Open. You don't have to move your data. The mailing list data can reside anywhere. The data can be in any format. Any service bureau can participate.
In Control. You will will have more control over access to counts than you do today. Quick counts does not mean everyone has unfettered access to instant counts. You will continue to control the flow of information and will have new tools to manage these requests efficiently.