May 13, 2008

Secret #47: Lists Are Dying

The foundation of Direct Marketing is the list. And unfortunately, the list is dying.

Back in the day, we had very limited information about customers. Given that we knew almost nothing about customer behavior, the list meant everything. The fact that the customer purchased from Bloomingdales By Mail within the past three months meant a lot.

Of course, co-op statisticians changed everything, proving that cryptic equations and "affinity models" identified more potential customers than the Bloomingdales By Mail 0-3 Month $100+ Womens Select.

E-Mail lists represented a transitional stage in the list death process.

Google severely wounded the list. Would you rather rent 0-3 Month $100+ Womens customers from Bloomingdales, or would you rather have access to customers who are looking for dresses RIGHT NOW?!

The only problem with Google is the psuedo-anonymity of the process. The list allows you to know something tangible about the customer --- name, address, e-mail address. Google lets you know that the customer is searching for a dress right now.

So where does this leave us?

Somewhere between social media pap and lists are communities.

A community represents a group of folks with a common interest.

In the data mining world, this might be KDNuggets. In the old days, a marketer would rent a list of KDNuggets users, sending a glossy postcard to the user with the text "DO YOU WANT TO INCREASE SALES BY 294%? ASK HOW!" proudly displayed across the front of the postcard.

Today, the marketer might purchase display ads on the homepage. In the future, the marketer will interact with the community. The marketer might give free software to members of the community, no strings attached. The marketer might offer advice to folks who are dealing with challenging situations.

In kind, the community supports the marketer.

List based approaches to marketing have yielded prominence to algorithmic approaches to marketing. The community approach to marketing re-introduces the human element, an element that is sorely missing in a co-op and Google driven world.


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