Key Considerations in Building a Marketing Database
By Rhonda Drake

The following article, written by Rhonda Drake, appeared in the April 2002 issue of Proof,
a newsletter of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. This article reveals key considerations that any direct marketer must
consider when contemplating outsourcing the build of a marketing database.


Building a marketing database is one of the most daunting challenges a direct marketing organization can face. The creation of a marketing database requires many decisions in the near term that will impact long term operations. A project manager for the development of a new marketing database must be cognizant of current and future information feeds, and be prepared to make decisions on technology which will allow the storage and retrieval of an organization’s marketing data. In addition, a database project manager must understand how the names within the database will be used for marketing communications so that the ultimate platform can support all of the requisite communications to meet the needs of the organization.

Assessment of current information management capabilities
Before designing the ultimate database, it is important to understand how the current data repositories are supporting marketing efforts. Understanding the current process, and identifying the shortcomings of it can provide important insights in the requirements for an improved information management solution. Begin by interviewing the key constituents (users of the marketing information). Use their feedback to define a list of deliverables for your database.
    Evaluation of current shortfalls. If a new database is contemplated by an organization, then the consensus must be that the current information management structure is inadequate. Interview all information users to determine why. The list of inadequacies may include the following:
    • All information is not integrated in one repository, causing integration to occur “offline” in spreadsheet processing.
    • Data is not accessible to end users, requiring phone requests for counts or creation of analysis data sets.
    • Each product line has its own database making usage of data across product lines impossible.
    • Data structure is too rigid, it is too difficult to add additional fields to accommodate new ways of marketing.
    • Even simple analysis requires the extraction of data from the database and the manipulation of data in a separate application.
    Identification of needs. Following the identification of the shortcomings of the current database, a list of mandatory deliverables can be constructed. Based on the list of shortfalls defined above needs might include:
    • Integration of all data into one repository, with product information consolidated at a customer level.
    • Connectivity to database with availability of tools to allow end user access.
    • Flexible data structure is required to add new fields as needed.
    • Basic analyses and reporting tools must be available to get some information directly from the database.
Reconciling future needs with current capabilities
Based on industry trends, it is important to identify capabilities that your organization may not need now, but may want in the future. For example, even if your organization does not currently communicate with customers via email, you may want the capability within the lifetime of the database currently being designed. Take into account the attributes your database will need in the event your organization adopts new channels of marketing, or requires a higher frequency of updates.

Project placement
When corporate data needs relative to the customer base are assessed, and the associated data sources are identified, a corporation must make a decision: build and manage the database in house, or out source to an external vendor. This decision will be influenced largely by the number of and complexity of data feeds required to build the database. A company with a single data source may opt to build and manage the database development internally. A company with a dozen data sources may opt to place the database maintenance and development in the hands of experts.
    Advantages of outsourcing database maintance.
    1. The organization does not need to maintain the staff to administer the technological or data processing support to a marketing database.
    2. Existing IT staff can perform their functions with minimum disruption.
    3. The task of building and maintaining a database is placed with experts.
    4. External vendors are more conversant with cutting edge technology for management and analysis of data than internal staff.

    Disadvantages of outsourcing database maintenance.
    1. Loss of direct control of database management and functioning.
    2. Outsourced techniques are not guaranteed to be proprietary.
    3. Possible uncertainty of the long-term stability (change of management and personnel, mergers, solvency, etc.) of the database management vendor.
Writing project specifications for your database
In writing project specifications for your database, you must be specific with respect to all aspects of the construction and maintenance of the database.
  • Data. Specify the quantity of records to be incorporated into the build, and information to be received for updates. Provide file formats of each. In addition, if you want the database to contain new variables not presently captured, or derived variables (manipulations of raw transaction data into new variables) you should specify all such variables which will be included and provide logical business rules to assist in the creation of variables.
  • User. Provide information on who will be using the database
  • Reporting and analysis requirements. Provide example report templates that will be required for generation from the marketing database. Provide examples of other analyses or query functions that the database should support.
  • Marketing efforts to support. Provide information on marketing efforts that the database should support, (i.e. extraction of names for mailing, emailing or telemarketing efforts.)
  • Higher level analytics. If your database is to be used to support regressions or segmentations, make sure it is easy to score the regressions back to the database, and that it is easy to create point-in-time extracts or “frozen” files.
Project management and ownership
When the specifications have been written the final document may be submitted to vendors for bids or the document may be transformed into a more detailed project plan for internal database development. Regardless of whether an outside database vendor, or an internal MIS team supports the project, a strong advocate understanding both the technical issues and the needs of the end users is required. Such an advocate ensures the delivered system will support the ongoing marketing functions, and can adapt to future business needs.



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