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Delve into the data and evaluate everything

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At the mention of "database marketing," your mind may instantly leap to list brokers, the acquisition and maintenance of lists and agencies promising you whatever it takes to get you to sign up for a campaign or two. But outsourcers shouldn't be your focus. Database marketing stems from a common-sense concept of gathering and leveraging knowledge to market smarter and achieve ever-greater return on investment. That means it begins with you evaluating everyone you do business with and establishing a deliberate hierarchy.

Which accounts account for the most business is something you probably know off the top of your head. But it's crucial that you find the thread that binds your best customers and then identify prospects that share the same characteristics-because it's likely that they'll also share the business needs that made your top-level accounts top-level accounts in the first place.

In database marketing circles, the process of finding a common thread and then applying it to develop a prospect list is referred to as "modeling," a scaled-down buzzword version of the old-school term "extrapolation." Extrapolation is statistics-speak for nothing more than making a logical projection: "OK, now that we know what makes this group tick, let's go out and find another group that's exactly like it or at least resembles it closely." The truth is, no broker is better qualified than you to assess list potential. If you've done your homework, you're the only one who knows who your best accounts are and what they've got in common-so clearly, you're the only one who can shed light on where new customers are to be found.

Contemporary theory holds that the right data are the most important element in any marketing effort, and that messaging follows, with creative design in a sometimes-much-contested third place.

Again, this seems to be a matter of common sense insofar as what you say and how it looks surely pale in comparison to who you're talking to; but database marketing is not just the who but also the how in parallel. What you say, how you say it and the overall packaging of it must flex off what it is that you know about your customers and, in turn, what you believe you know about your prospect list. If different approaches need to be taken with different members of your audience, then it seems only logical that you track every touch point to ensure that it is aligned with your overarching message and that the relationship is being crafted and managed to meet your goals.

M.L. Hartman is VP-creative and communications at Interactive Marketing Group. He can be reached at ml.hartman@imgusa.com.

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