Managing the Demands of Database Marketing
For about 15 years, starting in the mid to late 1980s, database marketers had it easy, according to Jeff Fowler, president and founder of Decision Software, in Chief Marketer.
There were only two channels of consequence to worry about—direct mail and telemarketing—and the technical requirements for supporting them were almost identical.
Marketers tooled along on cruise control, blissfully unaware that they were only in the first lap of the
database race. Comparing marketing needs then to now, says Fowler, is like the difference between driving a dump truck and racing in the Indianapolis 500.
Modern marketing databases—or more aptly put, marketing platforms—are asked to power a vastly increased workload. In addition to yesterday's old-fashioned batch queries, digital media demands an interactive, real-time capability called On Line Transaction Processing (OLTP). Marketing campaigns now create hundreds of segments targeting both customers and prospects for a series of personalized offers across multiple channels: direct mail, telemarketing, email, and SMS text. These campaigns are often coordinated with integrated social media updates to a corporate Facebook page and Twitter account.
Campaign responses not only include buyers and inquiries, but email activity (opens, bounces, click-throughs, and opt-outs), website metrics, and even SMS text replies. Interactive elements to the system are now standard fare: web surveys, consumer preference centers, call center lookup functions, website interfaces, and so on. Meanwhile, the thirst for more real time business intelligence (BI) is unquenched, only temporarily satiated with web-based dashboard reports.
The difference between OLTP vs. batch relates to how the data is organized and stored. Trying to use one design to meet both requirements could get ugly, says Fowler. A system optimized to quickly crunch through massive amounts of data doesn't work very well when asked to flag an email solicit with a bounce in real time. Using a database designed for batch processing for OLTP functions is like starting an assembly line to build a single car.
Modern relational systems allow users to create multiple databases on the same server, each tuned for a specific marketing function. Thus, one database might support BI reports, another can be linked to an online consumer preference center, while a third is used for email blasts. For especially large and active installations, even multiple servers can be synchronized, allowing these functions to be load-balanced across different machines.
The key to staying on top of this organized chaos is to make sure there's only one system of record (SOR), which is the original marketing database. All feeds to the marketing platform need to be applied first to the SOR, with the information then propagated and transformed as needed to update the dependent databases.
To maintain data integrity, a well-designed marketing platform distributes data in a top-down, hierarchical manner. That said, certain components of the marketing platform work in a bi-directional fashion, receiving data from the SOR and passing data back to it. An example of a bi-directional component is the preference center, where new consumers added to the SOR need to be passed down to the preference center, and consumer opt-outs within the preference center must be passed back to the SOR.
Yesterday's marketing databases have been transformed from single-purpose, batch-oriented systems into highly sophisticated marketing platforms. Technological advancements combined with modern design methodologies allow these platforms to support simultaneous and diverse functions, which are key to running large, complicated campaigns.
Much like the engine in a finely-tuned racecar, notes Fowler, marketing platforms have many moving parts, all of which must be balanced, synchronized, and periodically tuned to keep business humming along smoothly. Without such an engine, multimedia marketers are left out of the running.