Solving the data puzzle

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The dominance of the brand extension strategy has had a fortuitous side effect for b-to-b media companies. They have collected a wealth of demographic data from not only their print subscribers but also from visitors to their Web sites and attendees at their events.

The challenge is how to organize all of this information and put it to use.

Several b-to-b media companies-including Ziff Davis Media, VNU Business Media, Primedia Business Magazines & Media and PennWell Corp.-have launched ambitious initiatives to centralize their customer databases. The three main goals for these projects are to:

n Create consistently deep demographic data on customers in order to cross-market media products to them.

n Use the database to sell targeted names to b-to-b marketers.

n Analyze the demographic data to launch niche products for hidden markets.

Most circulation directors- a job which has become increasingly important as marketers, conditioned by the Internet, demand more and more targeted demographic data all the time-believe that the initial use of the data will be for b-to-b media companies to cross-market their own products. "We see the first and easiest ROI on bettering our own current marketing efforts, our telemarketing efforts, e-mails and direct mail," said Joanne Wheatley, VNU Business Media's VP-information marketing.

Gloria Adams, PennWell's corporate director-audience development, said her company is beginning to see a payoff from its database project. "It takes a while," she said, "but the biggest place you start seeing it is in list rentals. You're able to slice and dice a lot more."

VNU's Wheatley said, "The [next] step would be the development of new information produts to sell them. That will be a little more longer term."

Certainly, a look at a subscriber database can reveal potentially lucrative information about a media company's subscribers. At GIE Media, the database of Lawn & Landscape magazine showed that many of the readers spent their winters running snowplows. That insight led to Snow Business magazine. "It was a very successful launch," said Heidi Spangler, director-circulation and database management at GIE.

But the process of building a database that might yield such nuggets can be arduous. Ziff Davis, for instance, in a project overseen by Sara DeCarlo, VP-database marketing, is striving to merge three distinct databases. The first comprises the paid magazine subscribers and includes little demographic data. The next contains the names of the controlled circulation magazine subscribers and provides a long list of data. The last database, Internet visitors, falls somewhere in between the controlled and paid subscribers in terms of the depth of the demographic information.

"The plan is to try to bring [the paid subscribers] up to the same level of the data that we have on the controlled subscribers," DeCarlo said.

To make up for some of the paucity of the data, Ziff Davis has contracted with Acxiom Corp., which has a database of demographic information it can overlay with incomplete profiles to fill in absent data. Ziff Davis hopes to have the database up and running in October. The payoff, ideally, will be a better understanding of the customer.

Jerry Okabe, VP-audience marketing at Primedia Business Magazines & Media, has a cautionary tale about investing in a centralized media database. It occurred when he was a circulation executive at Miller Freeman in the 1980s. "We did build a corporate database across the entire company, and we took 300 lists in 40 different formats. It was a yearlong project, and was quite costly and very time consuming. In the end, because we served so many varied markets, it wasn't as useful as we thought it would be," he said.

So at Primedia, Okabe is not organizing the customer database centrally but market by market. There are many hurdles to overcome. For instance, the company's magazine subscriptions are handled by three different fulfillment houses, and its data from events, books and directory buyers are in different silos. Nonetheless, Okabe is optimistic about generating ROI from the project. "From a cost standpoint," he said, "the technology has improved greatly."


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