How to Use Databases to Help Your Marketing

A guide to building and maintaining your most important marketing resource

How to Use Databases to Help Your Marketing

When marketing, databases are your best friend. They allow you to store and manage information crucial to your marketing easily and at relatively little cost.

A well-managed database puts the details of your customers and prospects at your fingertips, allowing you to communicate with them (via mailshots, telemarketing, and customer service activities) much more effectively, as well as helping you keep track of your communications.

This guide will help you run and manage your database as a crucial marketing tool. It covers:

  • How to use your database to achieve marketing objectives.
  • How to select and enter information.
  • How to design it with marketing purposes in mind.
  • How to manage and maintain its effectiveness.

Why build a marketing database?

Marketing databases are a great way to collate all of your marketing info. You can gather together all your sources into one place – your sales, customer survey results, enquiries, recommendations, service and guarantee records, mailing lists, and so on.

A good database can also help you manage and prioritise your marketing efforts. You’ll be able to see what market segments are most profitable to you, what customer profiles are similar to your most profitable customers (and thus to target these customers) and to organise when and how you should contact customers and schedule activities.

Once you’ve sent mailshots you can also use your database to evaluate your results and then reflect on what works and what doesn’t.

How do I build my database around my objectives?

There is little point in building a database unless you know what marketing objectives you need it to help satisfy. Establish these to a suitable degree before building, and keep them constantly in mind.

Concentrate on customers with high potential profitability. Mark out the most promising and potentially profitably market segments are, and identify the customers (and their common characteristics) who fall within them. Use this to identify the needs of these customers and tailor offers to them.

Schedule your communications and establish what channels are most effective when communicating with certain groups of customers, and with what frequency you should use these to market to them.

Finally, survey your progress. Create reports showing conversion rates by activity and market segment, and compare each group to detect any untapped marketing opportunities.

What system should I use for my database?

These days, contact management systems are available for relatively low costs off the shelves or through demand software licensing. These have been specifically designed to fulfil your marketing requirements, and unless mail order is likely to be a large part of your future marketing activity, should be equipped to handle anything you might throw at them.

Check your system specifications by establishing the size of database you are likely to need, predicted user numbers, and how frequently it will need updating. Decide what applications you need to import/export data from (i.e. your website, order processing, and automated credit card handling).

Check its ease of use. Your database must be able to handle data entry and updating quickly and easily. Consider using cloud systems if remote access is a priority (for employees working from home, etc).

Check its flexibility, it should support mailshots and be able to generate reports as needed. Check whether it can connect with other applications (word processing software, etc).

Finally, establish what input and extract processes you will be using. Manual entry is suitable for small volumes of data but quickly become unwieldy the higher the volume needed.

Consider using batch processing (included in most specialised marketing databases), or incorporating electronic forms on your website that link up with the database.

How should I design the database?

  1. Make it user-friendly. Include short-cut options to speed up data entry, leave space for multiple records, and include specified fields for comment by users.
  2. Make it flexible. The database should allow you to generate a pick list of data from which you can add or delete entries and groups to get an exact list to be used for a mailshot/report. It should also include mail merge functions that link up with other applications (word processing software, etc).
  3. Organise the data into categories, codes and key data fields. This will allow you to filter in/out records when creating or analysing a campaign.
  4. Use dates. This will allow you to generate time-sensitive data upon initial entry (the person’s age from their DOB, for example.
  5. Use unambiguous descriptions for data. Ensure that it delineates between different customer types effectively.

How can I use categories and identifiers to create more effective marketing?

Firstly, categorise your data. For example, you might categorise your contacts into existing customers, prospects, influencers, and others – and further subcategorise them by average size and frequency of order.

Give each categorisation a unique ‘identifier’ code. This will allow you to identify specific facts to help you create more targeted marketing.

What marketing analysis can my database help me to perform?

By keeping track of your communications, your database can help you analyse what aspects of your marketing are working and how it can be improved. It will allow you to identify and analyse:

  • The most promising market segments. Produce different reports (by sales channel, ad medium, postcode etc) and identify any patterns linked with a success in sales.
  • Your most promising customers. Analyse their profiles and identify anything they have in common. Use this information to target customers with similar profiles.
  • Your most effective campaigns. Keep track of where leads and sales are coming from. Remember, leads may come indirectly from key influencers – include these influencers in your database and use it to keep up a good relationship with them.
  • Your most effective salespeople. If your database is also used as a sales database, monitor which salespeople are winning business, and which are losing it.

You should also store the results of any customer research you carry out in the database, so that the results are organised and collated properly.

How do I manage my database?

Update your database regularly by outlining a set schedule for updates and sticking to it. Assign the responsibility for this to trustworthy employees. You can also encourage customers to correct errors (in their name, address etc) when you communicate with them. Unless you maintain your list regularly it is likely to be useless within about two years.

Make sure you check for errors, checking by eye can be time-consuming but is very effective. Software can be used that generates addresses from postcodes and verifies the spelling by cross-checking against Royal Mail’s files.

By giving each customer a unique reference number, a URN, you can also make sure that every update applies to the right record – organise your data by URN rather than names, and print URNs on any letters and envelopes you send.

Delete duplicates. Duplicate mailshots irritate customers and waste money – remove any contacts whose undelivered mail you receive immediately.

Credit employees with data entry. Tag the information by employee and keep track of who makes changes – this will ensure your employees are accountable for their work.

How do I keep my data secure and private?

Back-up regularly and always ensure one copy of the current database is kept off-site in a secure location.

Obtain prior consent from recipients. Legally, you must obtain the consent of the recipient of any marketing before you use their email address. They must also always be given the option to opt-out of communications.

Register with the Information Commissioner’s Office as if you keep personal details of customers, this is a legal requirement.

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