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.
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 AutoTrader.com 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.
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.