Abacus counts on database’s growth

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Bucking the economic slowdown and the downward spiral of some of its competitors, Abacus, the direct mail division of DoubleClick Inc., is enjoying a rapid b-to-b expansion.

Broomfield, Colo.-based Abacus is attracting new members to its flagship b-to-b database, BtoB Alliance, at a rapid clip and recruiting experienced b-to-b direct marketing executives. Among Abacus’ recent moves and successes:

• Increasing BtoB Alliance’s contact base to 44 million names, up from 40 million in July.

• Boosting the corporate membership of the cooperative database to 250 from 217 in July.

• Recruiting Finlay Waugh, a high-profile Dun & Bradstreet Inc. marketer, as BtoB Alliance’s VP, a new position.

DoubleClick’s progress

Abacus’ marked expansion comes as DoubleClick, despite its lukewarm standing with the b-to-b community, begins to show some progress in the sector, entering new enterprise deals with companies including L.L.C. and upgrading its DartMail software. This is important because without the backing of a healthy DoubleClick, Abacus’ growth spurt could be short-lived.

Waugh, who joined Abacus last summer, attributed the BtoB Alliance’s growth to its cooperative structure. "The value proposition is a strong one," he said. "You can see more out of a cooperative database than you can out of your own house file."

Abacus is benefiting from a b-to-b move toward cooperative databases, a trend that mirrors what happened in the business-to-consumer sector in the mid- to late ‘90s.

Waugh said the BtoB Alliance’s focus on transactional data—it boasts 850 million transactions, representing $80 million in purchases—is helping Abacus gain ground in b-to-b. "Our pitch is: Use transactional data; it works better because it’s more predictive," he said. "When someone’s purchased something, they’ve tangibly voted with their budget."

Don Neal, senior VP-marketing for Rapp Collins Worldwide, New York, agrees with that approach. "The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior," he said.

Credible names

Abacus has been doing a major cleansing of the BtoB Alliance database to be sure all of the contacts are in fact businesses, and it claims that it’s as credible as any b-to-b database available. "We’re going through it field by field," Waugh said.

He said some b-to-b data-bases include consumer information, which scales down their worth. "Have you ever bought office supplies from your home address? Yes," he said. "Does that make you a business? No."

Despite Abacus’ recent advances, its long-term success is not assured, largely because of the relative instability of DoubleClick. While the New York-based online advertising giant still has $800 million in the bank, recent rounds of layoffs and financial losses have made some on Wall Street skittish about its prospects.

Recent moves by once-dismissed direct marketing competitors also underscore DoubleClick’s vulnerability. On Oct. 30, New York-based 24/7 Media Inc. announced it was acquiring ad-serving company Real Media Inc., which DoubleClick had been in talks with to acquire.

Despite the intense competition, Waugh said he is optimistic about Abacus’ prospects. "It’s a growth story, and it is a business model that we’ve seen on the consumer side," he said.

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