Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Datran Media Sells Email Like Web Ads

I wasn’t able to get to the ad:tech conference in New York City this week, but did spend a little time looking at the show sponsors’ Web sites. (Oddly, I was unable to find an online listing of all the exhibitors. This seems like such a basic mistake for this particular group that I wonder whether it was intentional. But I can’t see a reason.)

Most of the sponsors are offering services related to online ad networks. These are important but just marginally relevant my own concerns. I did however see some intriguing information from Datran Media, an email marketing vendor which seems to be emulating the model of the online ad networks. It’s hard to get a clear picture from its Web site, but my understanding is that Datran both provides conventional email distribution services via its Skylist subsidiary and helps companies purchase use of other firms’ email lists.

This latter capability is what’s intriguing. Datran is packaging email lists in the same way as advertising space on a Web site or conventional publication. That is, it treats each list as “inventory” that can be sold to the highest bidder in an online exchange. Datran not very creatively calls this “Exchange Online”, or EO. Presumably (this is one of the things I can’t tell from the Web site) the inventory is limited by the number of times a person can be contacted within a given period.

Datran also speaks of having an email universe of over100 million unique consumers. I can’t tell if this is its own compiled list or the sum of the lists it sells on behalf of its clients, although I’m guessing the former. The company offers event-based selections within this universe, such as people who have recently responded to an offer or made a purchase. This is more like traditional direct mail list marketing than Web ad sales, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Completing the circle, Datran also offers event-triggered programs to its conventional email clients, for retention, cross sales and loyalty building. This is not unique, but it’s still just emerging as a best practice.

From my own perspective, treating an email list as an inventory of contact opportunities exactly mirrors the way we see things at Client X Client. In our terminology, each piece of inventory is a “slot” waiting to be filled. Wasting slots is as bad as wasting any other perishable inventory, be it a Web page view, airline seat, or stale doughnut. One of the core tasks in the CXC methodology is identifying previously unrecognized slots and then attempting to wring the greatest value possible from them. It’s pleasing to see that Datran has done exactly that, even though they came up with the idea without our help.

The notion of slots also highlights another piece of ambiguity about Datran: are email customers purchasing an entire email, or an advertisement inserted into existing email? There is language on the company site that suggests both possibilities, although I suspect it’s the entire email. Actually, embedding ads in existing emails might be a more productive use of the “slots” that those emails represent, since it would allow delivery of more messages per customer. Whether it would also annoy recipients or diminish response is something that would have to be tested.

Datran offers other services related to online marketing, such as landing page optimization. This illustrates another trend: combining many different online channels and methods in a single package. This is an important development in the world of marketing software, and I plan to write more about it in the near future.

1 comment:

thelarch said...

As someone else you wasn't able to make the ad:tech show, I can relate to your sniffing around the site, looking for news about what's being highlighted. I had to scratch my own itch for information by listening to the Chicago show's podcasted workshops (http://www.ad-tech.com/podcasts/). The sound quality is bad but still, good fodder for a long commute. And I posted my own questionable "scoops" from the event (http://www.digitalsolid.com/?p=256).

I look forward to reading if you've learned more about this email company.

Also, kudos for preaching your "slot" paradigm to clients. The clients that understand opportunity costs, and become skilled as seizing these opportunities with real offers and perceived benefits, get a significant competitive advantage.