While customer intelligence seems to be today's mantra, Hession said a countertrend is at work: Sheer database size often is more attractive to marketers, especially within the b-to-b space, he said.
“Some companies want big data sets that are, nevertheless, targeted with the right companies as to employee or revenue size,” Hession said. “On the b-to-b side, most marketers already understand who they want to talk to.”
Hession said he generally sees companies that want “35,000 semiqualified contacts at the top, and then they're backing into a revenue number.” These companies then let their marketing automation vendors—Eloqua, Marketo, Neolane or Pardot, for example—do the heavy lifting to make the list more precise.
That's an experience shared by Kevin Kerner, managing director-U.S. at Austin, Texas-based agency Mason Zimbler, a division of direct-marketing company Harte-Hanks.
“There are interesting trends showing up in the database marketing space right now, and one is the idea of scale and volume,” Kerner said. “Looking at it from an agency perspective, our customers have a voracious appetite for more data, greater volumes of data. They're looking at sources that give them scale, net new names. They have the need to feed the beast.”
Kerner acknowledged that marketers want quality, but that it may be something stressed more by analytics and marketing automation companies than by marketers themselves.
“Many marketers are just thinking about the next name,” Kerner said. “The idea is that they want "just good enough' data to get started. It doesn't have to be great data. Big companies in particular will always have this appetite for quantity.”
But Kerner said the customer-intelligence argument is gaining ground.
“This idea of volume will be around for a while—until companies start thinking about the customer, and are focused on the experience they want that individual customer to have and the message he sees,” Kerner said.
Observers say this tsunami of data has to be corralled to achieve the goal of fully addressable, personalized messaging.
“It's not about boiling the ocean and building gigantic database properties that house everything,” said Jason Madrak, head of direct-to-consumer marketing at insurance provider Aetna Inc., at the annual expo and conference of the National Center for Database Marketing held in Miami in December. “It's about being quick, nimble and focused on particular pieces of information that will solve things.”
Madrak urged the implementation of “robust dashboards” that illustrate how database marketing and analytics are helping drive business.
“We as direct marketers have a unique opportunity to translate our work into dollars and cents,” he said. “At the end of the day, that's the language of business. If you don't do that, your programs will fail.”