Exploring the international market for data

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In "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy famously remarks to Toto, "I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." It's the same feeling many U.S.-based direct marketers experience upon entering global markets. Why? Media opportunities differ, as do regulatory environments. Then there are the sometimes-vast chasms between the data available abroad versus what comes standard in the U.S.

Though it may be true that there's no place like home, the enormous potential of the international market continues to lure marketers across borders. And not just the corporate giants. Many small and midsize companies are going global with just a product or service, a Web site and a dream. At the International Data Marketing Fair in London last month-the largest European direct and interactive marketing show-BtoB investigated what U.S. marketers can expect from the data market when they make a move overseas.

The marketplace

The international data market is diverse. Mediaprisme U.K. Director Denise Henderson-Cleland said, "Europe and Asia/Pacific are the best-developed regions, but there are huge variations within them." Individual countries differ by their level of sophistication in direct marketing, efficiency of the local postal service and severity of direct marketing laws, she added.

"In Europe, the closest to the U.S. is the United Kingdom, but you don't have the same volume of names," said Mailing List Asia General Manager Toti Ramos.

According to Stephan Merz, managing director of Direct Marketing Merz, the German partner in the Lists4Europe alliance of European list firms, Germany and the Netherlands are just behind the U.K. in terms of development. "These operate in much the same way as the U.S. market. ... There are established brokers and managers operating alongside list owners for b-to-b, but list availability is nearly always less."

Ranked just below those countries for direct marketing are Austria, Belgium, France and Switzerland said Arnaud Le Lann, managing director of Euroleads, Lists4Europe's French partner. The least developed European markets are the Czech Republic, Poland and Turkey.

The availability of data in Asia is increasing. But Ramos said it remains "far behind" Europe and North America. Henderson-Cleland called Africa the most challenging market, with the exception of the Republic of South Africa.

No matter which country or region you're considering, expect to pay more for data than you do in the U.S. Richard Gibson, commercial director of London-based RSA Direct, Lists4Europe's U.K. partner, attributed this to the weak dollar and a lack of competition from data sources within many countries. Asia is the most expensive list market, Ramos said, "because it costs an arm and a leg to get a name."

Data sources

Unsurprisingly, the availability, depth and quality of data also vary. "In some regions or countries, the only b-to-b lists available are compiled files built from government and phone data," Henderson-Cleland said. "In other markets, you will find publisher, exhibition and mail-order lists. In small countries, options will be limited because the population is not large enough to support vertical sector files."

In addition to list rental, there are numerous b-to-b databases that provide global, regional or, sometimes, country-specific coverage. Users of these databases benefit from one-stop access to disparate data sources. But not all of them can deliver effective penetration of your target markets. Also, since the same list owners' data may be present in several databases, "find out who the data partners are to avoid renting the same names twice," Henderson-Cleland cautioned.

Some prominent global b-to-b databases are D & B's Worldbase and EuroContactPool. These may be useful for mailers that want to target specific industries worldwide or as a starting point for building a database by telephone research, Henderson-Cleland said.

There are also databases that combine information from publishers, event organizers and other companies. Two that are pan-European in scope are Mardev's DecisionMaker database and Kroll International Marketing's Publibase International Executive Masterfile.

Selection strategies

When selecting a data source, you'll need to consider the all-important language issue: Do you plan to communicate in English or to translate into the local language? Henderson-Cleland said: "The only way to tell if a contact is proficient in English is by selecting someone who either reads an English-language publication, has attended an English-language event, purchased from another mailer who recruits in English or who is a known English-speaking expatriate. If you are not sure, don't write in English is the rule."

Using U.S. Standard Industrial Classification codes to describe your market sectors can also be tricky because SIC codes differ from country to country. "Not everyone is familiar with U.S. SIC codes," Le Lann said. "For example, the U.S. has three times as many banking classifications as does Europe. Converting U.S. SICs with a description is the best way to define target markets."

When sourcing data-and when targeting communications and offers to individuals-it is vital to evaluate each country's regulatory environment. For example, the U.K. has a corporate telephone preference service, Germany has strict rules about the use of promotions and incentives, and Denmark has effectively banned unsolicited commercial e-mail.

During an ongoing international campaign for business center supplier Regus, Gibson, Le Lann and Merz found the best approach was to score each marketing medium based on its appropriateness for every market the client was contacting. Then, they were able to identify the unique combinations of media that would work best for each market and target prospects accordingly.

Navigating the differences

In the complex world of international direct marketing, experts report the key to success is working with a partner that has in-depth knowledge of the local market, the language and relevant legislation.

"A good local broker will help with more than just list proposals," Henderson-Cleland said. "They will help you to tailor your offer ... and will be best placed to get you the best rates. Use [one] who is experienced in working with U.S. clients and who is willing to be available outside their normal business hours when campaigns are running."

Several U.S. brokers are able to source international lists through partnerships with local brokers. These include Acton, Kroll Direct Marketing and Oceanos Mar- keting. When working with such providers, "make sure that you are getting local input," Henderson-Cleland advised.

Also, because address format is unique to each country, marketers must employ a data processing company with proven international experience. Only a handful of companies in the U.S. have mastered this, said Leland Kroll, president of Kroll Direct Marketing. The pioneers include Data Services and Global Z. The latter even offers local-language processing for such countries as China, Japan and Russia.

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