Database Management : An Elementary ApproachMarch 2012 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
In preparation for this issue's feature article on database management, we came up with the most vague question possible to ask printers: How do you add value to your customers' jobs through database management?
You can almost see the panic that crosses the respondent’s eyes. There are a number of ways the subject can be approached, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. But, there is a universal solution—whatever your definition of management, as long as your company can (in its custodial duties) enable clients to get the most return out a relevant, fresh and accurate customer file, call it whatever you wish.
There’s a correlation between database management and education. Think of a client’s data as an elementary school student. You’re dealing with someone else’s baby. This child needs to be kept safe and secure. He/she must be manipulated (taught) to perform at its highest level. And, as its “teacher,” it is up to you to find out what your “pupil” wants to achieve in life and provide guidance to attain those goals. Do all of these well, and it will be your competition that’s taken to school.
Not surprisingly, there are printing/marketing services firms that have taken their data management capabilities to a higher level. GLS Companies, a Brooklyn Park, MN-based printing, direct mail and marketing firm, recently underwent a stringent review of its procedures to underscore its commitment to client data security. The review adheres to the Service Organization Controls (SOC 2) standards and replaces the reports generated under the SAS 70 (Statement on Auditing Standards).
Developed by the American Institute of CPAs, the SOC 2 standards enable GLS clients to review reports of procedures used to secure data such as client and customer mailing lists, proprietary product and marketing information, as well as physical assets. Two key areas are covered under SOC 2 reports: physical access to client data and network security. The audit reviewed the way GLS collects, processes, transmits, stores, organizes, maintains and disposes of customer information. Reports also analyze plant security procedures.
“There’s quite a few details underneath the audit, but a lot of it is based on the unique situation of the environment and the compensating controls that are built to layer security,” notes Frank Powell, vice president of information technology at GLS Companies. “I see a general trend toward an increase in security awareness among our clients, and not just the health care and financial services companies.”
Keeping It Safe and Secure
Doug Hammerseng, vice president of sales for GLS Companies, notes that about a dozen clients had requested information regarding the handling of their data and its security. After investigating options, GLS decided to opt for the SOC 2 reports.
“We were trying to figure out, from a sales perspective, what...would grab a prospective client’s attention,” he says. “Security breaches have garnered a lot of media coverage, and we knew that it was a growing concern. (SOC 2 audit standards) formally puts us out there in front of the market.”
Data security is only part of GLS’ value proposition. The printer serves an advisory role with clients at the genesis of a campaign, leveraging past experiences to provide guidance on messaging and market targeting. Multichannel integration, including QR codes, PURLs and Websites, augments the essential, traditional direct mail-based address hygiene functions such as CASS (Coding Accuracy Support System) certification, NCOA (National Change of Address) and Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB) tracking services.
“With postage being the largest part of direct mail campaigns, we do everything we can with customers’ files to optimize their postage,” says Steve Lasher, GLS’ head of mailing operations. “That includes looking at drop-shipping entry points, meeting critical in-home dates and doing LTL (less than truckload) directs, where we enter the mail into the SCF (sectional center facility) to coincide with the sale or event. We work closely with customers to help plan their campaigns.”
To what degree does guidance play in the role of database management? Are printers custodians or advisors? Take Colormark Inc., of Kansas City, MO, which now considers itself a marketing solutions partner that offers assistance at the concept and design phases of a client's project. Data development and leveraging tools are vital elements to the printer's tool belt but, as database manager William Mitchell points out, comfort and confidence go a long way with the direction clients take.
“As a company, we still see a disconnect with our customers in them not getting art directors and creative people together with IT or data people way upstream in the process,” Mitchell remarks. “It’s common to see a customer with fantastic data and no idea what to do with it; and, on the other hand, a customer with a great campaign idea and horrible data.”
Those frustrations may come with the territory, but they are a mere bump in the road. Tiffany Edwards, cross-media platform database manager for Colormark, notes the printer does client presentations that illustrate how data can be used to improve response rates. The printer works with them on a one-to-one basis, reviewing their data and suggesting how it can best be leveraged. Colormark will also make suggestions on new data than can be collected to gain even better penetration with their recipients.
“By being able to have these kind of conversations, clients turn to us for guidance on new projects and what kinds of capabilities we can help them with to drive their response rates up,” she says. “By looking at their situations and suggesting solutions that make sense for them, a trust is developed. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to use a PURL and we will tell them that, even though it may mean the project cost comes out to less. In the long run, the relationship that is developed is more important than the short-term sale.”
Colormark performs CASS, NCOA and de-duping duties, and Mitchell points out that clients usually send in multiple data file formats, which must be merged to create usable data. Data accuracy, more than security, is critical.
“Ultimately, the accuracy of the data is only as good as the instructions or the information given to us,” he says. “We ask as many questions as we can up front and our data experts know what to ask to get the most efficient, accurate outcome.”
Japs-Olson Co., the pride of St. Louis Park, MN, is a commercial printer and direct mail specialist with customers who have a strong understanding of database marketing and personalization, not to mention solid segmentation and analytics knowledge. Michael Murphy, Japs-Olson president, says his firm's value proposition is in using software and imaging systems to create the complex levels of customization that his clients require.
“We have many production platforms that are optimized for the level of customized message and quantity,” Murphy says. “We will suggest a certain press or format configuration if we feel that it will be beneficial to their program.
“Many times, customers are used to a certain workflow and do not understand that, with minor changes, we are able to reduce their cost and time to market. The more we understand our customers’ objectives, the more we can bring our production expertise to create the best workflow.”
Data security is a priority for Japs-Olson, which takes a layered approach that includes physical, operational, auditing and disaster recovery. Murphy notes there are specific elements of verification to ensure the security of customer data. As for printers expanding their database management capabilities, it’s important to keep abreast of the evolving nature of marketing programs.
“Every segment of our customer base is developing more targeted messages through customization and personalization,” he states. “As our customers change, we must add data management and database expertise to facilitate these new marketing programs. We will all be required to develop bigger, stronger and more sophisticated data management systems.” PI