It's more important than ever that you understand this. Your site is not HTML, but your business is a database.
More precisely it's a collection of databases. You're building product databases, customer databases, prospect databases and internal databases (including clickstream databases, which are the Moby Dicks of Web databases). (My role in observing this is that of Melville's "White Jacket." ) These databases define your company and its business environment. What you get from them determines your fate.
That means it's vital, right now, to define all the data sets you might need from your customers, all the data sets they might need on your products, and all the measurements you might get from internal sources. It's also vital that you index these things properly, creating unique (unshared) numbers on which the rest of the data will spin like a CD in its drive.
The biggest problem I find with most corporate use of databases, however, isn't in recognizing them or even building them. It's in querying them, and using the results properly. Do you filter your offers so customers only get e-mail from you relevant to their needs? Do you connect your customer, product and Web databases so people can get to the page they need on your site within the requisite three clicks?
Even the best of us can always learn how to get more from our databases. A recent talk with Gayle Pietras, a senior marketing manager at Macromedia (they own Andromedia and LikeMinds brought home some lessons even Amazon needs to hear on this subject.
The ad you show should be based, not just on your customer and ad database, but on where the customer is on your site, she says. "When they're looking at pants (or a story on pants) advertise a shirt that will complement that offering," she suggests.
It is also a mistake to base your page delivery solely on past purchases. If you look at clickstreams, and at shopping cart inserts-and-deletes before throwing up a page, you're more likely to be precise in your targeting. "Purchase history is a low level of personalization. When you add those kinds of forms, you have the richest set of data to make the best recommendations," she says.
Here's another important point. Web publishing and site analysis are now the same thing. "You will need to recognize who is coming, serve their preferences, and make recommendations," she says.
To an extent these ideas are self-serving. Macromedia has put clickstream analysis, page creation and personalization together on one platform. But this is where you need to be heading, no matter where you buy your software.
The key to making all this work, by the way, isn't technical knowledge. It's the ability to brainstorm, to come up with the right questions, and then to demand that your database systems provide answers. It's project management and marketing imagination, in other words, that will rule the day.
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I write daily for ClickZ, and weekly at Andover.News. I write monthly for NetMarketing, Boardwatch, and Intellectual Capital. I've been in Advertising Age and the Chicago Tribune .Once every other month I'm in CLEC Magazine. You can always buy my book . Subscription instructions are at the bottom of each issue.
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Takes on the News
DoubleClick's Privacy Mess
A charm offensive like the current one of Doubleclick President Kevin Ryun can be very instructive if you understand what's behind it. Doubleclick put the whole industry in a bind by working to combine its Abacus database directly with clickstream data from its ad network, and it's your bacon Kevin's now trying to save.
The experience of Equifax a decade ago is instructive. The company had credit reports, which it resold to lenders. Its attempt to sell the same data to regular marketers (not just marketers of loans) was stomped. First Data's success in selling direct mail lists based on its credit authorizations was only possible because the data stayed inside the company. First Data only sold output in the form of saving opportunities, and only to existing clients.
This is how Doubleclick should have played it. The data combinations stay inside, while only opportunities go out via Abacus (an experienced channel for delivering them).
The benefit to consumers must be explicit in any use of their data. That's the quid pro quo the national Association of Attorneys General will demand , but it shouldn't be necessary. It should simply be good business. (Oh, and Fox seems to have stopped its stupid redirection of inside hits back to its home page - someone there finally got a Clue.)
Corporations and Free Speech
In a democracy you can see most demagogues coming, and stop them at the ballot box. Corporations seeking power the people have not given them are often more subtle. They prefer the courthouse, where expensive lawyers, papers, and time give them the advantage.
The Web doesn't just give individuals power. It gives these corporations a grand new playing field. Efforts by public companies to squash anonymity in investment chat rooms were just the first step. Worse, when an appeal to libel laws fails there is always trademark infringement, a tactic Terminix recently tried in California .
The risk in the multiplication of these kinds of suits is real for any responsible company. You may think you're fighting for your goodwill, but you're risking that of the whole system, and angry voters change systems.
Taking the Long View
The most important book I've read recently was (believe it or not) a biography of Frederick Law Olmsted .
Olmsted didn't find his way until he was just about my age (45), yet he knew his designs wouldn't flower for 30 years. He often fought (usually unsuccessfully) for the integrity of his parks, and many of them (like the chain of small Olmsted parks near my Atlanta home) are still in disrepair. Yet his work, and legacy, remain brighter (and greener) than that of most of his contemporaries.
"See! This our fathers did for us," said Olmsted. What will our legacy be? In the hurly-burly of our business lives it's important to think on that. We enjoy laughing at Al Gore over his "invention" of the Internet, but ignore the fact that the Internet wouldn't have happened without government. I started covering this space in the early 80s, when technologies like X.400 and EDI ruled. Why are they nearly forgotten now? Mainly because the people who created them had their hands out, demanding money before providing service. Government funding meant Internet networks exchanged "precious bodily fluids" thoughtlessly, without worrying about who was making how much off the traffic.
What does government do best? It takes the long view, making investments no one can make on their own that pay off for our children in the way of cedar seedlings. What does government do poorly? Anything focused on short-term results.
Clued-in is Jonathan Sacks , now senior vice president of AOL Interactive Services. There are some smart people in Reston - the question in a bureaucracy is whether anyone listens to them.
Clueless is Adam Werbach, now of Act Now Productions (head of the Sierra Club at age 23). He's wasting time in hating Regis Philbin rather than understanding the short-term nature of the phenomenon and preparing to make the most of his next 15 minutes of fame when they come by. Patience can't be taught to the young. (Oh and kid, drop the splash screen - that's so last century.)
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