As audience marketers continue to build huge databases of information about their subscribers, they sometimes find a key piece of information is missing: an e-mail address. A number of companies have popped up in recent months to furnish missing e-mail addresses, correct bad ones or append demographic data to e-mail addresses of existing customers.
“Reaching customers in the proper manner and collecting [as well as] completing their demographic profiles is such a big part of what most media companies do, it's not a surprise that others realize we need help,” said Ron Epstein, director of controlled-circulation publications at Sage Publications. The value, he said, is in what they provide and at what cost.
“Those companies are multiplying like rabbits,” said Jerry Okabe, VP-audience marketing and circulation at Penton Media. “I suppose it points to the need and desire to have as much information about customers and prospects as possible,” he added.
The reason so many of these companies are coming out of the woodwork, said Richard Hoffmann, president of one such company, Synergy Interactive, is because facilitating e-mail renewals is so much cheaper than doing cover wraps or direct-mail drops. “There's no cheaper way to reach your customers,” he said.
Epstein said he only works with established companies in the field—companies he knows have accurate and ethical collection methods. “That's not to say any of the latecomers aren't quality organizations; but reader demographics are so critical to me, I can't afford to not get it right. So I go with a known commodity,” he said.
Okabe added that it is difficult to ascertain quality with these companies. He focuses on what sources are used for appends because the quality of an append is totally dependent on the quality of the source. “There are lots and lots of databases out there—some built through internal telemarketing, others compiled through various sources,” Okabe said.
Epstein said the best way to ascertain quality is to ask questions. He recommended finding out where the demographic data comes from, how old it is, if any costs are associated with updates and methods of collection. “Some people don't care how the info is collected,” he said. “I do. It speaks to the quality of the list. And at the end of the day that list is extremely valuable to you. You need to know the info in it is good.”
The most critical thing is to trust the e-mail-appending company, Hoffmann said. “Trust is a key issue. The other is to be sure the data is being updated frequently.”
Sometimes the list will be built through many sources with one of them being very dependable while the others are not as strong. The number of sources that make up the list is an important quality to look at, Hoffman said. “I saw a test done once where almost all the returned e-mail addresses were first initial and last name@company name.com. That doesn't take a lot of effort or creativity to come up with that kind of append. It's a good idea to test a company with a small number of names before engaging in a major append project,” he said.
Other qualities to look for, he said, are how recently the data was updated, how often it is updated and the maintenance process for keeping it clean.
The key measure of quality, Hoffmann said, is whether the company offers an opt-out option. “This is so important,” he said. “If you don't give people that opportunity [to remove themselves from your list], it is really a sign of poor quality. You want the uninterested to opt out. They aren't worth anything to your editors or your advertisers.”
Okabe said the key information to obtain is anything that will help you understand and interact with your customers better. “For us, e-mail addresses are key to our desire to grow online products and services, so the appends we've done have focused on e-mail addresses,” he said. “There is other demographic and psychographic data that can be appended, but as a b-to-b publisher, we already gather most of the relevant business information we need through the subscription request form.”
If, however, a company does not gather that information, Okabe said that it could be worth appending. “The caveat is that only a percentage of the file [and sometimes it's a very small percentage depending on what's being appended] will match up and be able to be appended,” he said. M