With all the talk about how marketers are responding to the poor state of the economy, it's important to consider that the core of database marketing best practices hasn't changed all that much: Marketers still need to gather and keep the best data they can on their customers, understand them, segment them, track them over time, do some predictive modeling to market relevant to them and target new prospects most like them.
On the other hand, there is one element that really has changed over the past couple of years, and it may represent as big a challenge to marketers as the economy. I'm referring to the multitude of channels that database marketers now have to cope with.
A few years ago, all you had was mail and the telephone, and you could track performance really well. You'd send out a piece of direct mail and get a certain response. And your sales rep would know pretty quickly the ROI of a phone call.
Today, marketing channels are exploding all around us, not only with e-mail, search and display ads but also with all the social networking sites. Companies, instead of planning their own campaigns, are almost having it done for them by customers who boldly state (through their behavior) their preferred channel preferences and messages.
Tracking prospects and customers is traditionally done with customer relationship management (CRM) tools, but today this might be termed CMR, for customer-managed relationships.
How does all of this affect database marketing?
While the multiplication of channels can make tracking harder, and as a result more difficult to amend a database, you still need to know your customers' needs and wants, and market to them one-to-one. Database marketing best practices haven't changed as much as how you implement them.
You may have customers who are Internet-savvy and want messaging sent to them digitally. You have to target them, and those like them, in this way. Perhaps another customer segment prefers sales reps to contact them.
Where database marketing pays here is that all this information can be captured. That includes every e-mail click-through, or sales contact or display ad click—and even that portion of sales you can't track to a source. But even here, you'll want to allocate purchases via some business rules.
Say, for example, you have a number of sales that have come in that can't necessarily be tracked to a campaign. You might ask yourself what these customers may have seen recently, say a direct mail campaign and couple of e-mails. You then can allocate a certain percentage of sales to each campaign or channel in order to understand real campaign ROI.
Of course this can help you better apportion your marketing budget, but it also can inform your database. I've worked with marketers that do just that, assigning to each customer the channel and specific campaign(s) responsible for a purchase, even if it has to be assumed across multiple sources.
Yes, your database is still a list of names; but now it becomes a richer list. You have orders and dollars assigned to those names. Further, by tracking the channels that brought you success with certain customers,
you can continue to market to these people in that way, and also model this data to find prospects with similar preferences.
Now it becomes a new segmentation of your database, which is channel preference.
True, b-to-b database marketers still have to deal with two levels of marketing: the targeted business itself as well as the multiple contacts within the business who make purchase decisions. Constant and faster turnover within target companies is making this a tough marketing challenge.
The solution is to keep your database as up-to-date as possible, with changes of addresses and e-mails, titles and positions. Track and segment your database at both levels, and target prospects with similar preferences and behaviors.
If database marketers apply these best-practice principles, they'll be able to reach out to only the most likely leads, with only the most relevant offers and through the correct channels.
Database marketing is more important than ever before, as marketers need to use their dollars in a smarter way and understand the specific channels and offers for each prospect segment.
And who knows? In the process the challenge of dealing with the economy may largely take care of itself.
Deb Campbell is VP-consulting services with Clario Analytics (http://clarioanalytics.com), a database marketing company. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.