In the past year, database marketing agency Merkle Inc. has seen a slight shift in what its clients want due to the economy. Some of the companies have become more focused on their customers, spending more time trying to understand exactly who their most valuable customers are. Others have accelerated their shift to digital media, looking for more out of every dollar they spend.

Naj Uddin, vice president of database solutions, said companies are more focused on acquiring people who fit an exact customer profile, and they are shifting their attention toward results based on quality rather than quantity. “Rather than saying they just want to find 10,000 customers this month, they’re looking for fewer, perhaps 8,000, whose profiles match the top tier of their existing customer base,” he said.

With a unique marketing approach that combines analytics, data, and technology, Merkle has been positioned to help marketers quantify their marketing programs for more than 20 years. Scott Cone, senior vice president, explained that many marketing companies focus heavily on only one of those capabilities, but Merkle’s approach involving a precise mix of all three. “We work with our clients to find the best combination based on their needs and goals,” he said.

“When we work on a retail project, we first help clients develop their retail strategy,” Uddin said. Whether the strategy is increasing the amount of foot traffic to stores or finding a better way to market to the customer portfolio, Merkle translates those needs into quantitative objectives. It then runs statistics-based analyses against these objectives to determine whether the strategy is achievable or not.

It’s only at that point that technology comes into play, providing a platform on which to support the data and analytics. “We have a customized approach to addressing retail challenges,” said Uddin. “As opposed to going in with one tool, we ask what the problem is, develop hypotheses based on data, and then support that data with a technology platform.”

Strategic Analysis

When first developing a client relationship, Merkle’s process starts with strategy and analytics. After determining what the client’s challenges and opportunities are in the marketplace, with its marketing programs and its customer data, a team of Merkle analysts steps in.

The company’s analytics team builds a comprehensive marketing database and works closely with each client to put analytics and strategy to use to meet marketing goals. During the last decade, the analytics staff’s accomplishments and capabilities have continued to grow.

“Data analytics is at the core of what Merkle offers. The blend of technology, data, and analytics shapes the marketing strategy. We work with clients to help them drive their business forward to ensure they are getting the most out of their data,” Cone said.

“The marketplace is shifting,” said Uddin. “Marketing is evolving to the point in which it calls for accountability, measuring the impact on long-term customer lifetime value. Technology is a core enabler of this goal.”

Creative computing

Analytics and an integrated customer marketing strategy are crucial to a successful marketing approach, but that doesn’t mean results-driven creativity is any less important. Under the tagline of “Think Brand, Act Direct,” Merkle illustrates its belief that testing a variety of creative approaches is more important than picking the prettiest.

“We develop the creative piece based on testing; what we know about customer demographics guides a creative treatment,” said Uddin. He said Merkle taps into the collective power of data, analytics, and technology to shape creative approaches more than most marketing companies.

“Along with the data, we look at the offer, message, timing, and other factors to determine which audiences will react positively to this creative treatment,” Uddin continued. “Our data reveals information about demographics and behaviors to determine customer profiles and how those customers responded to the creative treatment tests.”

Under the catchment of Merkle Knowledge Centers, the company builds and maintains comprehensive databases that collect, organize, and optimize marketing data using a flexible and scalable technology platform. One of the key differentiators for the company’s technology is that it customizes its database platforms based on specific client needs.

“We use our Knowledge Centers to drive the main processes, such as matching and integration with e-mail and results attribution, but then have the capability within that to customize elements for particular clients,” Cone said. “When a client asks what technology platform we use, we respond by saying it depends on their needs.”

Bottom Line

Communication is critical to developing and maintaining stable client relationships. Merkle’s strategic consulting group bridges the gap between database marketing strategy and implementation. In fact, many of its members have experience on both the supplier and client sides of the retail industry, thereby creating solid and open streams of knowledge and communication.

In March, the company introduced Integrated Customer Marketing (ICM), an optimization framework that helps companies draw a direct, measurable connection between a customer interaction and the resulting behaviors. ICM involves three enterprise capabilities: customer segmentation, a comprehensive database marketing platform, and a measurement capability to understand the value of customers and the impact that sales, marketing, and service activities have on their behaviors.

“There is a way to examine customer data to better understand your customers and ensure you are targeting them correctly,” said Uddin. “We’re not only focusing on the customers you’re trying to acquire but also on retaining the customers you already have.”

“Most companies do macro-level optimization in fairly crude ways,” continued Cone. “We believe everything, from the most basic decision to the most strategic decision, can be more data driven.”

The understanding both Cone and Uddin hope people take away after learning about Merkle is the company’s commitment to being a long-term partner to its clients. “Many of our clients are discovering how to leverage existing and emerging media channels and make sense of today’s changing media landscape,” said Cone. “We not only help our clients improve their marketing capabilities, we also help them move into the digital multi-media world.”

“It comes down to our approach of integrating strategy, analytics, and technology to get the best possible return on our clients’ marketing investments,” Uddin concluded.