Databases for tight budgets

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With so many sources of information about consumers, and so many different pieces of information to gather, circulators have difficult decisions to make as they build databases-particularly when the budget, as it is for most b-to-b companies, is fairly small.

The first thing an organization needs to do, said Christine Oldenbrook, director of marketing and e-media at Bobit Business Media, is define how the database will be used. "Just dumping every piece of information you can find into one big database is pointless," she said. "You need to define it and how it will be used. Accessing it and using it should have real value."

For Emelda Barea, VP-circulation and distribution at Jobson Medical Information, the first place she looks for data is in her own circulation file. "We ask for a lot of information from our readers before giving them subscriptions," she said. "I'm consistently amazed at the different pieces of information I can pull out of my own circulation files."

Barea's databases are updated quarterly.

"As people's budgets get smaller and smaller, they're more codependent on one another," said Deb Walsh, director of audience development at IDG's Bio-IT World. "Hey, you're capturing this information, why don't we work together instead of asking the same question of this person at the expo, and on the qualification forms and wherever?

"You have to look around and find every database that's in the company and use them effectively," she said. "There could be someone who is just building his or her own information system that could be useful to many more people in the organization."

Barea likes to have self-populating fields when she's building databases of markets similar to past databases so that the circulator knows what information is still missing from a particular subscriber's file. Then she'll go out and buy information to check if any of it matches with their current subscribers.

When you prepopulate fields, Walsh said, it also can make things easier for the consumer when they visit a Web site and have to fill out information.

"Nobody likes to fill out information twice," she said. "And you might as well use the time that the person would have been filling out the same information you already have to get new information from the person."

Oldenbrook is in the beginning stages of merging her company's myriad databases on a low budget. "Bobit is involved in mostly niche markets, and we don't have immense databases to work with," she said. "So right now we're just defining what should go into different databases and how best to serve our customers, whether advertisers or subscribers."

No piece of data is too small to enter into the system, she said.

"Size isn't as important as value," Walsh said. "Whenever I set out to capture demographics, I always ask myself, `What will I do with this info? What will I learn? Can I get this info some other way? Is it critical to have at this point in time?"' She said that there must always be consideration for the delicate balancing act between customer privacy, response rates and data mining.

Jobson has found many opportunities to sell information to advertisers for niche marketing, whether the advertisers are targeting opticians in a particular geographic region or opticians who sell specific numbers of contact lenses weekly. Advertisers are asking for information about niche marketing more often, Barea said. "And we need to keep up with the types of information that advertisers want about our subscribers."

It's a rarity that a marketer will want to fund the quest for a particular piece of information, Barea said. "Generally, we go with what we have. Circulators are expected to be creative and come up with the information without spending a lot of money," she said. "You have to be creative in pooling together information."

Sometimes information is inadvertently captured in ways that don't fit with auditing rules. "You can still use those numbers in aggregate," Walsh said. "Every piece of information can be used somehow, whether it's about the specific consumer or about the group as a whole."

Walsh added that these are all new skill sets for the circulator, which makes it exciting and daunting. "Our cataloguing cousins have been doing this for years, so we need to learn from them, but we also always have to be innovative," she said, "because there will always be another challenge." M

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