List View - A New Platform Needed (687 words)
The List Industry
By Tim Barlow
During the last 23 years, I've been engaged in providing list management and brokerage services to some of the nation's leading direct marketers. I've witnessed the evolution of customer-acquisition and list-marketing strategies that have driven the success of today's market leaders.
Utilizing data processing and business information technology, the list services industry has increased dramatically the speed and cost effectiveness of direct marketing, thus enabling both large and small firms to share in the success of direct mail.
The development of "best practices" standards in the areas of merge-purge, response analysis, modeling, database management and good old-fashioned list research and salesmanship is a source of great pride for our industry.
Access to "best of breed" services by customers has always been subject to friction in process flow and delays in execution due to barriers that are formed naturally by competition. Our best technology often has been underutilized because of our need to maintain competitive advantages. The collaboration of brokers, managers, list fulfillment suppliers and merge-purge houses requires a high level of orchestration. Despite the competitive environment in which list companies operate, a working partnership between the players in the transaction cycle is essential.
All the parties to the transaction render their services and communicate with customers through list brokers or list managers. Communications by brokers or managers, albeit good-intentioned, are in most cases reactive instead of pro-active. Also, there often are delays caused by communication breakdowns and time zone differences.
In addition, competitive restrictions against direct communications preclude the delivery of timely information and in some cases obscure the true needs of the customer. The walls and compartmentalization the current process creates need to be eliminated, and the list services industry needs to move to the next level.
A New Platform Needed
The Web creates the environment where a new platform can be built from which all traditional list services can be rendered and coupled with a full range of new technologies.
We in the list services industry need to recognize that the performance of all of our services must be in collaboration with other service providers and that the needs of customers are paramount. I do not propose fundamental change to the customer acquisition and list marketing process, only that we re-engineer it to remove inefficiency. We don't need to create a paperless industry; we simply need to eliminate paper waste and the numerous delays inherent in the current process.
Several years ago an initiative was launched to create a common standard for business transactions in the list industry. The proposal called for the establishment of common formats and an electronic communications channel that would link all list companies. This idea, although well-intentioned, never got off the ground because it was, in my view, contrary to the competitive interests of the major list companies. The walls that exist today require a great deal of human effort to carry out the routine business transactions between list services providers. The Web can enable the list industry to tear down the walls that prevent the seamless flow of information and transaction with our customers. The high degree of professionalism in the list services industry is a valuable asset to customers only if the natural competitiveness between brokers and managers is transparent.
Direct marketing professionals have access to a wide range of resources through the Web. Establishing a direct transaction-processing channel that enables full collaboration of all parties to the process is essential. Additionally, the Web provides a limitless opportunity to provide access to the most knowledgeable of the vested partners in the list acquisition and the list marketing process: the customer.
The Web enables the evolution of our industry's best practice standards, without changing the competitive balance.
Now that the dot-com madness is waning, we must use the Web in a manner consistent with the list industry tradition of bringing the best and brightest people together to serve our mutual clients. Let's bring down those walls.
Tim Barlow is an independent consultant in the direct marketing industry, specializing in list marketing and circulation, and customer acquisition. For more information, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.