Database companies edge ever closer to the world of agencies

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It's no secret that the marketing world is moving rapidly into an all-digital, all-the-time mode. This new fact of life is being felt keenly by direct mail and list management companies, the core of the direct marketing business. Last month, data and marketing services company Mardevdm2, with roots in sales-lead list management, announced plans to focus on sales and marketing alignment, demand generation and marketing management. Mardevdm2 said its new services will continue to be based on data, informing the “buyer journey.” However, the company's global service portfolio now includes demand generation and marketing automation programs; market segmentation and targeted profiling; lead nurturing, analysis and scoring; and buyer propensity modeling. “We are very aware that data has become terribly commoditized in today's marketplace,” said Zina Manda, director at Mardevdm2, summarizing a key element in the transformation of the database marketing industry. “We need to add value to continue growing and to become a future-proofed company.” Manda said marketing and measurement across channels is driving Mardevdm2's changes, including campaign implementation using marketing automation services from third parties, like Eloqua and Marketo. “We're handling the important stuff and allowing marketers to focus on the stuff they're good at,” she said. Meanwhile, the biggest player in the field, Infogroup, is also busy reorganizing itself into a company that delivers data, research and marketing services. Clare Hart, president-CEO at Infogroup since last year, inherited a company with many operating units, most of which didn't communicate with each other and actually were competitors for the same accounts. She's worked to consolidate the business units from 30 down to five. And while data is still at the company's core, Infogroup is also positioning itself as an end-to-end marketing solution. “Our business is data, research and marketing services,” Hart said. “That's our technology businesses, data management and brokerage, and executing on email. That's where we're investing, in both classic and digital marketing capabilities.” For the immediate future, Hart wants to enhance the company's self-service application which allows marketers to download sales leads directly from the Web. The company is also working to develop trigger technology, particularly in its iSell product that delivers automated sales lead updates. “Marketers are asking list firms—now calling ourselves "data agencies'—to help examine existing customer databases to see some key changes that are a direct result of the difficult economy,” said Jay Schwedelson, president-CEO of database list management company Worldata. Another major change among database companies is a growing emphasis on international markets, he said. “Global expansion is huge, with 18% of our overall revenue now from non-North American programs,” Schwedelson said. “The most sought-after markets are in the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia. China has also become a target in the last two quarters. Sourcing this data has become a major new initiative for list organizations.” Another big player in the database field undergoing significant change is MeritDirect. This month, the company announced the rebranding of its list management and interactive services division as Data and Media Services. “That more broadly defines the nature of our multichannel products and services,” said Rob Sanchez, MeritDirect president. “It better portrays our diverse portfolio of lead and demand generation, email and online advertising, co-registration, data licensing, integrated databases and customer list enhancing, appending and optimization.” While no database marketing company claims to have become an agency, the expanding list of services many now offer is nudging them ever closer to Madison Avenue.
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