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Integrated Subscriber Databases

By Janet Cass

Actions speak louder than words; learn what your subscribers' actions reveal.

You need customers. Whether you’re a magazine and call those customers “subscribers,” a freelancer seeking people and organizations who will hire your services or, heck, any entrepreneur who wants to stay in business; you need addresses. Correct ones. You want more of them. And you certainly don’t want to alienate the owners of those addresses by sending duplicate messages, messages the customer considers irrelevant, or by sending messages too frequently.

Enter the integrated subscriber database (ISD), a “caretaker of data … that produces actionable results,” according to Joe Benson, president of publishing services at Plymouth-based Knowledge Marketing Publishing Services.

“Think of it,” Benson explains, “as how many ways do you interact with a customer? Webinar registrant, print reader, etc.” All of these interactions, or “touchpoints,” represent opportunities to update contact information, acquire interest preferences about potential new customers, and refine your understanding of existing clients—including how frequently they prefer to be contacted. “We need to retool how we think about what we have,” he urges, “and cross-promote products like trade shows, magazines, webinars, and other products,” because different customers are attracted to different products.

Great idea, but how does an ISD help you accomplish that? By recording information you specify in whatever categories you specify, and showing you how those categories relate. For example, an ISD can note click-throughs to record what parts of a digital magazine attract a given customer, file that and whatever other audience engagement behavior and customer information you choose to record, and retrieve that information in ways that allow you to communicate strategically. Here’s a B2B example:

“Our master [integrated subscriber] database includes individual publication, digital product and event databases,” says Sandra Martin, KMPS client and group director of strategic community and audience development at UBM (United Business Media) Canon in Los Angeles. “We have the ability to create targeted lists based on demographics, geographic location, or behavioral data. For instance, if an advertiser is looking to reach design engineers in Minnesota who receive one or more digital products and attend one or more trade shows, we can access our entire database (close to a million records) instantly, using one simple interface, to get all the records which meet the criteria. Our sales team is able to offer clients customized products to meet whatever needs they have, and are not limited to “off-the-shelf” products. We also have the ability to tie in our email system to include audience engagement behaviors.”

But can an ISD benefit a small, primarily print publication or an independent graphic designer? “Absolutely,” says Benson. Although he notes that the largest growth in publications is currently in the digital space, he reassures that, “You just need to have multiple touchpoints” in order to profit from an ISD in a small-business setting. You already have the address of a subscriber or trade-show visitor, right? That’s one touchpoint. The magazine or graphic product itself is another. So is a Facebook page.

Even a modest digital presence provides a touchpoint that allows you to acquire information about potential and existing customers. “Ask for some pertinent data from a website visitor,” Benson recommends, suggesting that visitors be asked for a little personal information before being allowed to delve deeper into the site. “Studies have shown that people are more willing to give personal information in order to get information that helps their work than by registering for a one-shot event like a contest.”

Do your homework before building an ISD yourself or hiring a firm like KMPS to do it for you. “The biggest questions for people to consider before acquiring an integrated subscriber database are, what do I want to find out, and, what would I do with the data once I collect it?” says Benson.

“Our entire portfolio is much more robust for having the integrated database rather than many individual files,” reports USB Canon’s Martin. “This project continues to be a work in progress as we have more users and products. I would say the first step in working toward an integrated database is to find a partner that will be flexible enough to develop around your needs, but also knowledgeable about your market.”

Janet Cass is a freelance writer and editor.