January 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Net Gains January 1998 Current Issue
January 1998 Net GainsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Net Gains


Getting Personal

Your database can help you send your message to the right people

Jeff Rasco: We've discussed push technology in recent columns -- the systems that customize news and other up-to-the-minute data an individual chooses to receive via e-mail. This is the epitome of direct relationship marketing, and planners can use these same concepts to tailor communications to attendees.

The good news is it doesn't take a $1 million database and a huge staff to do the job. For association planners, membership applications contain a wealth of demographic information. For corporate planners, human resources databases can be the foundation of a data mine.

The database system you use should have the flexibility to add fields to routinely refine your communications. For instance, the 15-year association veteran has different informational needs from the rookie member. With data on individual tenure, you can send appropriate messages to each group. And whether you use the database for e-mail, fax, letter or phone call, those contacted will be amazed by the "work" you put into knowing their needs.

Thanks to the advances in database software, you should now be managing your data instead of the other way around. Every time you interact with someone, you have an opportunity to make another deposit into their data banks.

Here's an example: Your organization has a Web site featuring the upcoming meeting. When a participant registers, much of the form -- like name, address and phone -- can be automatically filled in from the database linked to the site. As she enters her selections, the database is updated as a part of the registration process. She is sharing her needs and preferences with you. She signed up for a class called Learning the Internet, so for the next conference, her registration form can automatically be filled in with the next class in the series. Of course she can change it, but by anticipating her next step, you bring her attention to something that might be of personal interest.

The final component of sending the right information to the right person in the right way at the right time is good old-fashioned homework. We can learn a lot from our supplier partners here. Today's savvy salesperson uses the Internet for a tremendous amount of research. It is still amazing to me how much is out there on corporate Web sites and business-to-business sites like Hoover's Online (www.hoovers.com), which offers thousands of company profiles. And searching through your competitions' sites can reveal dates to avoid, sponsors to contact or concepts to follow up on.

Rod Marymor: For suppliers, the rapid development of widely accessible, inexpensive and powerful technology tools allows us to give our clients unprecedented levels of customized service. And because we are able to do this, the expectation is that we will -- and we had better.

My goal is to collect contact and profile information from my customers and prospects. I can do this on the Web, through the mail or at the point of sale. In the gathering process, customer details migrate from their source to my marketing database. Once those details make it to my database, I can separate records by any field or combination of fields. This means that I have a more affordable way to communicate than direct mail "mass" marketing. Using a powerful database and the automation processes that come with it, I can contact individual customers, prospects or other suppliers through their media of choice with targeted, even individualized information.

For example, if I have a restaurant, I can track what my regular customers order. When I send promotional material, I can automatically have my database make sure the beef folks don't get the chicken coupon and the big drinkers know Wednesday is dollar-margarita night.

Similarly, a hotel chain can track customer preferences so whenever Ms. Jones shows up, five feather pillows, a basket of apples and The New York Times will be waiting in her south-facing room. In fact, this kind of technology-enabled service means this customer will have less of a reason to go to the competition. What's more, the longer she is a customer, the more the hotel can learn about her, which means even better and more consistent service and, therefore, stronger loyalty. As hospitality industry consumers, planners should start to expect this kind of care for their attendees.

Technology is requiring us to know more, communicate better and faster, and provide a new paradigm of service -- and as we do, our customers' expectations will rise to the occasion.

Rodman Marymor, CMP, and Jeffrey Rasco, CMP, are partners in San Francisco and Austin, Texas-based HMR Associates, providing technology solutions for the meetings industry.

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