Subscriber information overload?

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When every keystroke you make and every click you take are closely monitored, how much information is too much data? Audience marketers are constantly struggling with that question while collecting data from subscribers. Is there such a thing as too much information?

"I think we do have information overload in circulation these days," said Jerry Okabe, VP-circulation/audience marketing at Penton Media.

Gloria Adams, director of corporate audience development at PennWell Corp., said she'll take as much information as she can get. "However, when it comes down to the bottom answer, the question is: What am I getting? Am I getting good qualified names, and how many am I getting, at what cost?"

Okabe groups data into three categories: basic circulation data, new technologies and integrated data, and internal efficiency data.

The first group includes response rates from campaigns and the cost per subscriber. "(Those) are still the backbone of data that is necessary to accomplish our jobs," Okabe said. "I don't see this changing."

The second group comprises tech- nologies and integrated data new to the company. For example, Okabe's team is developing an integrated database to help with subscription verifications. When the project is completed, out-of-date subscribers who visit Penton Web sites will view a pop-up window asking if they want to immediately verify information. "Leveraging this interaction with our customers can be a huge savings in our outbound efforts to re-verify subscribers, and it helps them to feel that we know them better," Okabe said.

The third group is efficiency statistics about Penton's circulation operation, which also includes response rates and cost per subscriber, as well as the average number of publications each manager handles.

Okabe's biggest data problem, however, is finding the time and resources to gather and evaluate more than just the basic information.

Deb Walsh, director of audience development for IDG's Cambridge Bio Collaborative, said the key was to focus on "actionable" data. If you don't, she said, "you can waste a lot of time in the data dungeon."

While reviewing her Web sites, Walsh evaluates actionable data—page views, total unique visitors and total repeat visitors. She also closely watches bounce backs, session lengths and sources to distinguish organic from paid traffic.

To ensure successful search marketing, Walsh scrutinizes conversion rates—from search and from the landing page; cost per action, which typically applies to paid search, but could include premiums such as downloads; and the value of site visitors—did they subscribe, register or purchase products?

In addition to assessing open rates and click-through rates on e-newsletters, Web sites and webinars, Okabe's team is focusing on making Penton's search engine marketing more effective. "These activities produce data that we need to understand and analyze, and we're just starting to get into doing that," Okabe said. "It will become more important in the future to understand how all these activities and information work together in an integrated fashion so we can better cement our relationship with our customers."

Francis Heid, VP-publishing operations at Advanstar Communications, said sometimes it seems as if there is too much data, but "just as you write off one piece of information, someone else thinks of a way to use that information."

Recently, he listened to a public radio show in which the founders of YouTube, Funco Inc. and Geek Squad all related using audience information to improve services and content.

"These guys made billions of dollars selling their companies, so I can't argue with them," Heid said.

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