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Circulation that delivers

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With new ways to touch your customers springing up every day-e-newsletters, RSS feeds, PDA alerts and webinars-the need to manage the overload of customer information is intensifying. ¶ Beyond this, merging data from every database in the company-circ files, Web sites, advertising rolls, editorial contacts and so on-leads to a deeper understanding of the target audience, which is always of interest to both publishers and advertisers. "Someone might not be subscribing to your magazines, but if they're attending a couple of webinars and conferences every year, they could be a major lead to your advertisers," said Mike Draper, COO of Network World, who led his company through the merging of print, conference, e-mail and custom databases in 1999.

Merging databases not only changes what circulators know about the audience, it can change their role within the media company's management hierarchy. That's because merged data yields critical insights about new product launches, according to several circulation executives.

Database merging is mainly done for two reasons, said Nick Cavnar, VP-circulation and data development at Hanley Wood. "One side is getting much more detailed one-to-one information and access for marketers who want to reach your audience," he said. "The other is to find new ways to derive revenue from your database."

For Shannon Aronson, corporate director, audience development at CMP Media, personalization is the key. "Without the intelligence provided by combining all of your databases, you're not going to be able to serve your customers in a real-time, custom way, and that's where everything is going," she said. "Without that personalization, customers will turn elsewhere."

At Network World, the master database is used for all direct-marketing efforts. That includes e-mail, postal mail and telephone. "We select a population of our audience whose profiles match the service or offer in the call to action," Draper said. "If we are offering a tech seminar on wireless technology in Chicago, we will use our database to select individuals who have opted in to receive information from us, who live within a 50-mile radius of Chicago and have indicated an interest in wireless technology." That interest can have been indicated in a variety of ways by past behavior, such as subscribing to a Networld World newsletter about wireless, receiving one of its wireless executive reports or attending an event.

New products

While Hanley Wood hasn't specifically launched products as a result of database analysis, the use of its database has helped bolster the case for some launches, Cavnar said. Take Coastal Contractor, a supplement to some of Hanley Wood's other titles. The quarterly ships out to 40,000 contractors that are within a certain distance of coastal waters from Maine to Texas.

"These people have all sorts of things to deal with-like hurricanes and shoreline erosion-and all we had to do to find them was do a geographic select and there it is," Cavnar said. Another Hanley Wood title, Custom Home Builder, goes to custom home and pool builders.

Cavnar said he knows there is an intersection of these two audiences because homeowners are beginning to spend more on the construction of outdoor living spaces.

"Originally, the pool builders served by our magazine Pool & Spa News seemed like a unique group that didn't need to be merged with our home builders, remodelers and architects," Cavnar said. "But it makes sense to offer our clients an easy way to target all the professionals involved in outdoor residential construction." So he is planning to add all of his pool and spa names into the master database.

While Hanley Wood had combined most of its lists into two master files-residential and commercial building-Cavnar held off on including the pool and spa names. "Until there's a business reason for me, it doesn't make sense to put them together," he said. But he notes the combined database has helped Hanley Wood make decisions about whether or not to go forward with launches. "To be able to cross-reference and see if there is an existing market for something is a beautiful thing," he said.

At Advanstar, database merging has been completed on the company's travel books and Web sites and has continued into other categories. "The creation of the database spawned `Travel Agent Electronic Edition',"said Francis Heid, VP-publishing operations for Advanstar Communications.

The electronic edition was launched once all the travel-related names were placed into one database, and an analysis showed clearly that customers wanted more information faster from the print edition. And so the electronic edition of Travel Agent magazine was born.

Luxury Travel Advisor, a print title, was launched after a database analysis found that high-end travel agents needed more information and that marketers were eager to reach this market.

Aronson said there have been many successes since CMP combined its data- bases a few years ago. For instance, CMP's marketing department handled audience development for the company's earliest webcasts. But this department had trouble finding audiences. "They were coming to us every two weeks and saying they didn't have enough people," Aronson said. "It was a nightmare." So she advocated for circulation to take over the project.

The circulation department cut webcasting costs by one-fifth for each project, but registration levels jumped. Today, the number of CMP webcasts has ballooned from eight a year to more than 300.

"Anytime you lower costs and improve productivity and revenue, that's a success," said Draper, who wouldn't point to a specific success within IDG's Network World. "Is there a `big bang?' Can I say because of this we have ROI of that? Anecdotally, maybe, but I can't give hard facts." Draper will say that the acquisition and retention costs for new subscribers has consistently dropped for his title because of deeper database information about each customer. At the same time, revenue has gone up.

How much to put in

Some, like Cavnar and Heid, say they don't believe that putting everything into one master file is necessary. "Until we can see some business reason to bring different groups together, we'll group our databases; but we'll combine anything that we think is related," Heid said.

Cavnar agreed: "You have to decide how the database will drive business before you decide what's going to be in there," he said. Cavnar separated his lists into retail and commercial construction-related customers and then kept the pool and spa customers in a different database. "We knew that combining architects and pool builders wasn't going to bring us a lot of crossover marketing," he said. "So why take the time and money to do that now?" Cavnar said he is aware of what titles and groups of customers are most direct marketing-responsive, and these are lists he may merge. "Before you say, `We'll combine everybody together and create this great direct marketing database,' until you get some intelligence of who you've got and the characteristics of who you've got now, [combining databases] doesn't make total sense to me," he said.

Aronson is a proponent of having every bit of information possible in the database, from advertising contacts to editorial Rolodexes. "In most companies, the renegade group is editorial because the editors write all their contacts on napkins and even those contacts are important to us," she said.

Donna Sickles, corporate circulation director at Quadrant Media Corp., decided to put all the company's titles into one database, even though some are dissimilar, purely out of the need for efficiency. "It's all in the same place. It's all coded the same way. It will all function the same way," she said.

Malcolm Netburn, cofounder and president of consultancy Netburn McGill, said that if a publisher can find any peripheral link between publications, the databases should be merged. "There you go-new product, new revenue stream," he said. "That's extremely valuable data."

Whether or not you decide to merge all of the databases or keep category divisions separate, it's important to keep updating the information. "It becomes totally dynamic once you set it into motion," Netburn said. "One person clicks through your Web site and then goes to certain seminars at your conference, and then purchases something through your mail order. Those data files should be aware of all the ways your company touches a customer."

Where to start

The ability to analyze your database and create new, powerful revenue streams can allow the smart circulator to pull up a sturdy chair to management's decision-making table, but in some situations it's a matter of convincing management to do it at all.

For Sickles, the catalyst was e-mail. "There was always an opportunity through direct mail to cross over from silo to silo and cross market our products, but with e-mail it's suddenly more instantaneous; so being able to communicate electronically has made this really, really important," she said.

Gloria Adams, corporate director, audience development at PennWell Corp., said the merging there has been done since the beginning purely for list-rental purposes. "Without list rental, I wouldn't be able to have these lists together and find that other revenue," Adams said. "I can sign a lot of the expenses of the database to list-rental maintenance, which brings in more money."

Hanley Wood also initially made the merge purely for list-rental purposes. "It really opened up that business," said Cavnar, who added that the publisher doubled its list-rental business in three years due to the ability to create larger and more varied lists.

"By combining lists, a publisher with a lot of small niche magazines can create larger selects that appeal to big direct marketers," he said. "You can also create selects that cross several b-to-b niches, like the `small business owners' we offer from our residential construction master file."

Adams suggested starting with your fulfillment house. "Technically, they should have the most current set of names and the file that has the most activity going across it," she said.

Sickles, who is still completing the total merge of company databases at Quadrant, said there are a number of decisions she made before her fulfillment company could begin the process of merging. Questions that had to be answered were: Were all titles going to be included? Which business contacts were to be included (subscribers, Web site registrants, advertisers, research contacts, etc.)? What data did Quadrant want to carry forward and store in the new database? What would Quadrant be using the new database for? Would it replace the existing files or be used for specific purposes in addition to the original files? How would Quadrant go about updating the file?

Once Sickles and Quadrant's fulfillment company answered these questions and found ways to redesign files so that similar information fields could be found in separate files, the process began to move forward.

Cavnar said that standardizing files is a difficult issue. Hanley Wood hasn't made all of the coding standard across its files, and that does create some annoyances. "You might need a programmer to come up with a new formula for you every time you want to look at some bits of information," he said, "but you shouldn't make changes without thinking them through. Changes you can make on the front end on the product level that will help on the back end are terrific, but don't lose sight of the business objectives on the front end and what's going to give you the best circulation or attendance or whatever for that product." 

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