By Bob Miller March 22, 2004 -- You know how one-to-one marketing communications works, right? You get a file from your customer which contains a list of names, addresses, and other information. You then use the information in the file to generate a specific, targeting mailing to each individual on the list. Since the mailing is personalized, the response rate is high. Your customer makes more money and you make more money. Now that the technology exists and the cost is dropping rapidly, we're poised for a flood of one-to-one programs. Right? Well, not quite. The catch is buried in the phrase, 'you get a file from your customer.' Have you ever wondered where the file comes from? Let's pretend for a moment that we are your customer's marketing department. We have devised a strategy and a set of rules which determine exactly which piece goes to each person, based on some personal characteristics. Let's say we want to pick from a range of product offerings and discount levels based on what each customer has bought over the last 12 months and when they last purchased from our company. We feel certain that we have the right offering tailored to each customer segment to achieve our results. All we need now is the customer list. Next, we go to our IT department and ask for the list. This is where it gets interesting. Over the last ten years or so, I have been in meetings with IT departments of very successful companies who: Could not provide the names and addresses of their top 100 major accounts. Could not determine which subscription services they were billing their customers for. Could not provide a list of customers within a certain geography, defined by zip codes. Had separate customer lists for different product offerings and had no way to match the lists up. The list goes on. I once asked the CEO of a local printing/mailing company to poll his customers about how long it took them to come up with the data that drove their marketing campaigns. The average time was nine months. I think it is safe to say that there are very few campaign strategies that are still worth doing nine months after they were conceived. Now let me make it clear that I am not knocking IT departments. They are charged with taking orders, shipping products and getting the bills out on time. Not to mention allowing total access to the Internet while preventing intrusions and viruses. They do a great job at it and they don't get nearly the appreciation they deserve. It's just that the skills and attitudes required for their main business are very different from the skills and attitudes required to clean up and analyze customer and market data. So, even though your customer is sold on one-to-one marketing, and even though they understand how they would apply it to their business, and even though you are locked and loaded with a digital printer and a file server and a high speed Internet connection, my guess is that most of you are still waiting for the business to roll in. I am convinced that most of you will continue to wait until someone comes in to deal with your customer's data problem. Most importantly, whoever does come in to help will be in a great position to determine where the printing gets done. I think you will agree with me that it really ought to be you. In this series of articles I will try to explain what we have learned at The Rochester Group about customer and prospect database issues, and I will describe what we have done to resolve them. My goal is to arm digital printers with enough knowledge to ask the questions and recognize the issues, and to enable you to be the ones to facilitate the solutions. Some digital printers will become experts in data mining, but I believe that many don't need to. As long as you are the one who puts together the solution for your customer, you will be the one to get their business. The more you understand your customer's data, the more you understand their business. This enables you to offer more and more valuable solutions, and makes you less vulnerable to price competition. And that's how one-to-one marketing communications is supposed to work, right?