Today, list marketing goes far beyond its roots, with list managers now handling everything from renting names to buying banner ads on behalf of clients. And in the process, brokers and management companies have morphed into full-service marketing agencies.
List companies have built out their practices into areas such as e-mail marketing services, search engine marketing services, media buying and research services.
"It has had to evolve," said Deb Goldstein, president, IDG List Services. "A lot of list companies have done search," she said. "I know five or six list companies that have SEM divisions. I don't think anyone has figured out how to make money at it yet. It's a struggle, but they are trying. I applaud them for doing it."
Data company infoUSA has spent the last few years acquiring smaller list companies, e-mail marketing and research companies, as well as hiring people with expertise, in order to develop its own offering beyond list rental.
"We're very committed to the digital space and the services we provide," said Ed Mallin, president, Services Group (formerly Donnelley Marketing). Those consist of e-mail services, including creative services, as well as search. "We offer search as another piece of the puzzle," he said, pointing out that the company handles both paid and organic search services.
Other companies have formed marketing partnerships to provide clients with a full range of services. Last November, Direct Media partnered with eWayDirect, an e-mail provider, to offer clients integrated list management and segmentation, campaign development and ROI-based analytics.
"I think as more and more consumers and businesses use the Internet for their subscriptions or for other information, we need to offer clients a way of reaching those people online," said Ed Bocknik, exec VP- e-commerce services at Direct Media.
"Whether [it's] direct mail or e-mail or search or banner ads or telemarketing, we need to help our client reach that customer," he said.
Bocknik said Direct Media does that by teaming up with companies such as eVision, its search marketing partner, and eWay- Direct, its e-mail marketing partner.
Some go so far as to characterize their shop as something other than a "list" company.
"We're in the business of list brokerage, but we're a customer acquisition services firm," said Chris Paradysz, CEO of ParadyszMatera.
Paradysz said the company handles search marketing, e-mail, display advertising and all other forms of online media.
"We have a programming staff and a development staff," he said. The company was early to the game; Paradysz said its search practice began in 2001 or 2002. In 1999, the company started an in-house "digital agency" and, according to Paradysz, the direct response part of that business continued to grow and is now a major part of its business.
Wide array of Web services
Others, like MeritDirect, are also providing clients with a wide array of Web services. For example, they work with clients to analyze their e-mail marketing.
"We do response analysis on what they've done in the past, we look at [things such as] the way the e-mail creative is set up, how the HTML is written, the spam score, so we're doing a lot of that upfront" on behalf of clients, said Rob Sanchez, president of list management and interactive services at MeritDirect.
"Even if we don't own the server that houses the data, we've built front-end tools. We've got to be able to screen offers and look at the technical side," he said. "The business has changed so much."
Last January, MeritDirect formalized its Interactive Solutions Group, which was created to focus on Web services for clients in order to help with things such as Web analytics, Web site design and other Web consulting services. He said the business demanded expanded interactive services offerings.
"We've got such big exposure with some of our list owners and clients," Sanchez said. "We're doing a lot of e-mail campaigns and, in the process of that, things come up. The need was there. In the past, we would look for the right service bureau to send that work to, but it caused a logjam so now we can control the entire process, and it becomes another business line."
Clients are at the heart of the push for such a wide array of Web services offered by the list companies because they have come to expect them, he said.
"The brokers we tend to work with offer ancillary services rather than the ones who just offer list purchase," said Michelle Goebel, senior manager-programs and field marketing for North America at enterprise software company Citrix Systems.
"We need brokers to be able to provide other services as well," she said. We see them as an extension of our team. The other services some of the brokerage companies are providing are developing landing pages and populating information for us, sometimes e-mail creative and co-registration programs." She said the logistics behind co-registration are often handled by the list company. She also typically relies on them to handle reporting back-end metrics, as well as buying media.
List companies are also expanding into the research arena.
In December, DM2-DecisionMaker announced it will offer online b-to-b research panels as part of its online research services built in conjunction with Harris Interactive Service Bureau. It gives marketers that rely on custom market research easy access to professionals in several vertical industries.
Last year, Millard Group said its Decision Direct Research market research division will expand further into b-to-b research. Research programs it has developed specifically for b-to-b marketers include competitive analysis, corporate image research, advertising effectiveness research and new-product development and testing.
The value of technology-driven list strategies hasn't escaped the notice of investor groups.
Late last month, Alvion Technologies, a list marketing technology provider, was acquired by an investor group led by Robert K. Sher, who was named CEO. The group includes Gary Schmidt, who becomes president, and Richard S. Trenkmann, who becomes CFO of the company, which has been renamed Alvion.
The partners said they intend to ramp up the development of the company's suite of services.
Direct marketing veterans, Sher was CEO of Primis Marketing Group and CEO of KnowledgeBase Marketing. Schmidt was most recently general manager of Hyphos360 and also worked at Experian and BMG Direct.
"We look at it as information marketing rather than list marketing," Sher said.
He describes Alvion as a provider of Web-based, on- demand, high-performance data-base and information solutions.
"Along with names and addresses, the ability to have a Web-based system would allow us to develop a sophisticated platform to deliver other services alongside the data and list information, such as on-demand online modeling, change of address and merge-purge," he said. "The information is processed so quickly that it will change the whole complexion of marketing for information and database marketers.
"Right now direct marketing, which used to be a second floor rear business is now a main, middle-of-the-road marketing tool used by direct marketers of all sorts," Scher continued. "These companies have massive data-bases and they need access to tools that will help them become smarter about their customers."