Challenged to grow their own lists via digital channels, b-to-b media companies now find themselves fending off threats from new database technology BY CHRISTOPHER HOSFORD
The world of traditional response-list marketing is shifting rapidly. Magazine subscriber databases are being augmented by a variety of digital sources, such as webinar and e-newsletter registrations, that are redefining the term “response.” Meanwhile, new database development technologies, such as Web scrubbing and contact swapping, are competing hard to gain the business of b-to-b marketers.
Audience development managers are facing a rapidly evolving challenge: How can they maintain the relevancy of their list-rental business, not to mention the servicing of their own advertisers with effective marketing activities, given the shifting database landscape?
“Things have evolved,” said Joann Kropp, VP-customer data solutions for Penton Media, who is responsible for the subscriber lists of 114 magazines, 145 Web sites and about 100 trade shows in such industries as agriculture, aviation, electronics and information technology.
“But as we get better at mining our subscriber names and putting them on the list-rental market, we're also realizing that one size doesn't fit all. It's not just about ordering mass quantities of names.”
Media database managers, while acknowledging the increasing pressure from alternate forms and techniques of database list building, insist that traditional subscriber response lists can still yield strong results for marketers.
“I have to realize that our customers who order lists will try a lot of different solutions,” Kropp said. “And I say, "Bring it on.' I know we'll hold our own. Marketers will buy our names because [subscribers] trust us. They read our publications; they say it's OK to participate in third-party offers. It will prove out in the marketing effort.”
But competition abounds. Companies such as Dun & Bradstreet cull corporate contact data from official records. Hoover's, a D&B subsidiary, maintains a huge database of companies primarily by using an in-house staff of researchers.
Among the new generation of online database compilers and aggregators, Jigsaw leverages a social media model by allowing members to exchange and share their business information. ZoomInfo, another online compiler, uses Web-scrubbing technology to glean corporate names, titles, locations and e-mail addresses from Internet listings. ReachForce and NetProspex compile their lists in a variety of ways, then employ offshore call centers to verify names and titles.
These alternate sources of marketing lists increasingly are aggregating names from each other, both to increase database sizes as well as to append more detail to individual contacts. Recently, Hoover's dramatically increased its contact lists via a partnership with Jigsaw, while Jigsaw enriched its own database with market intelligence from Harte-Hanks.
As they face this increased competition, publishers are also having to deal with the contraction of their own lists.
“The prime side of our business is to maintain an audience for our advertisers,” said Nick Cavnar, VP-circulation and database development for Hanley Wood Business Media, whose construction-oriented titles include Builder and Custom Home. “The particular market we serve obviously has taken a huge beating, and we're having to deal with reduced circulation because of the number of home-building companies that have gone out of business.”
But Cavnar said home-construction vendors—Hanley Wood's advertisers—still need an outlet to market their windows, doors, siding and roofing materials.
“Our advertisers don't necessary expect us to have the same number of readers but to have the right readers,” Cavnar said. “What's essential in this economy, and especially in this industry, is not gross numbers but rather reaching the people who are critical and active.”
Rob Sanchez, partner and president-list management and interactive services with database list management company MeritDirect, said publisher response lists will continue to be a potent alternative to compiler-aggregator lists because of subscriber loyalties.
“Publishing companies have a very sticky, engaged audience,” said Sanchez, whose company last month acquired list-management responsibilities for all of Penton Media's subscriber lists, including 5.5 million postal addresses, 2.1 million e-mail addresses and 400,000 international contacts. “Publishers have the advantage of having content, where some of the other database models don't.”
Sanchez also said publishers can compete well in the online world, in particular with a growing number of e-mail addresses.
“Because of this,. they're in a great position to capitalize on online media,” he said. “We see subscriber lists as having a good opportunity to be multichannel, and thus have response rates significantly higher than some compiled sources.”
Whatever competition publishers face from the host of compilers, appenders, aggregators, Web-scrubbers, social accumulators and banks of offshore telemarketers, they may face yet another challenge in the new Apple iPad, according to Maurice Persiani, VP-business services at McGraw-Hill Cos.
Usually seen as a publishing plus, because of its potential for easily viewing paid content, the iPad's use of apps as a subscription intermediary is “a hurdle we'll be facing in the next one, two or three years,” Persiani said.
“If a publisher develops apps to push information out to subscribers, Apple will own the relationship between us and our customers,” he said. “The publisher won't get access to the lists. And we won't have the names to rent. I think that also could be a major issue.” M