Banking on rich data enriches relationships

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My first brush with rich data came in 1982, although the term hadn't even been coined back then. I was a district sales manager for Gulf Publishing's World Oil, an international publication that covered the oil and gas exploration, drilling and production business.

My territory was West Texas where we competed with a regional book. One of my top prospects told me he wasn't interested in my book because he didn't sell any product outside west Texas. I asked him if he had a list of customers. He said he did. I said, "If you'll share their names with me, I'll take them back to my circulation director and do a merge-purge to see which of your customers don't currently subscribe to World Oil . We'll add any who are qualified to our circulation."

I also promised a letter from my publisher with the first issue telling the recipient the subscription was a gift from the prospect's company. "If you do that, I'll move World Oil up to the front row," he said. My goal was to sell pages, but I quickly realized I was also enriching my relationship with this prospect and he with his customers. And in turn I brought data on people who were active buyers to World Oil's subscriber list.

I still consider the mutually beneficial exchange of data with that customer as my first encounter with rich data, although compared to what we can know about our readers today, it would barely qualify. But it was a lesson I never forgot.

Back then our job as trade publishers was to simply rent the eyeballs of our readers to our advertisers. We put out a good editorial product that educated readers and drew them to customers' ads. Today, advertisers expect trade publishers to do more than provide the best editorial, best circulation and an atmosphere inside our magazines that makes it conducive to move product through the marketplace. Now they expect us to be experts, to be consultants and, quite frankly, to help them find and keep customers in their competitive fields. Basically they want us to provide them with an unfair advantage.

That's where rich data plays a key role. At Randall-Reilly Publishing, we have a separate data company, Equipment Data Associates, which collects UCC1 bank filings of liens on heavy equipment—trucks, construction machinery, agricultural machinery and woodworking equipment, among others. Using these data, EDA provides equipment manufacturers, dealers and component suppliers with access to a detailed purchasing history of equipment buyers.

Our magazines use these data to prove that advertising in our publications delivers a return on investment. For example, one of our trucking advertisers was weighing whether to advertise in our publication or a competing magazine. We told him we would match up our circulation files with UCC1 filings to show him how many of our readers had bought his trucks, where they bought them and how long they financed them. We showed him that our readers, his customers, had bought 400 of his trucks worth $3.5 million. We told him that by using our magazine, he could turn his advertising department into a profit center instead of a cost center.

But you don't have to buy a data company to make rich data work for you. You're already paying for a BPA statement in which you collect information on your readers. Are you asking questions that are of value to your advertisers? Can you sell that information to your advertisers, or use it to entice them into your book?

One of our publications has successfully used its circulation-qualifying efforts to expand the amount of information it has on each of its 100,000 readers. In turn, we are able to sell direct mail services or research projects to advertisers that want to reach a specific demographic, such as all recipients who use a certain brand of oil or tires.

The key to success with rich data is to look for information that will not only help you make money but also enrich the relationship you have with your customers. When your advertisers stop seeing you as a publisher and start seeing you as a marketing partner who is vital to helping them find and keep customers, your business relationship will change. You'll not only be their No. 1 publishing partner, you'll also be a key part of their future success.

Mike Reilly is president-CEO of Randall-Reilly Publishing Co. He can be reached at [email protected]

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