The Real State of Cooperative Databases

I saw a blog entry recently, bemoaning the state of the catalog industries reliance on co-ops and indicating that the move to co-op reliance is mostly negative.  I have to admit I was floored by this comment!  I have been in the industry for a while now, I won’t quantify my time as a direct marketer exactly, except to say I remember hand writing exchange balances on green-bar sheets and having merge interaction reports that resembled cement blocks weighing down your desk.

Yes, times have changed and marketers have gotten smarter. Co-ops have evolved as a marketing tool to help catalogers keep up with new media that is quick and adaptive.  Gone are the days when a mailer needed to start ordering lists for their campaign two months before a merge date, with fingers crossed, that the counts on each list select won’t have too much variance and that each list will be delivered on time.  Now mailers take advantage of “just in time fulfillment” through co-ops, getting their catalog in the hands of the consumer when their wallet is open.  This can only happen because co-ops update their databases on a weekly basis, feeding new transactions in quickly, and turning around models in days. 

One of the comments regarding co-ops that surprised me was the statement that there is rarely any mention of them in Industry trades. However, I can list numerous articles from trades that are not only specific to co-ops but co-op best practices as well.  And, as for the “traditional list industry” ignoring co-ops, I work with multiple brokers who invite co-op representatives to train them on modeling techniques and who place orders with co-ops for their mailers. So again these statements leave me scratching my head.  And lastly, perhaps co-ops haven’t won a List Leader award, but this week Epsilon’s SVP of Data Strategy, Don Hinman, was honored at the Silver Apple Awards Gala by the Direct Marketing Club of New York (DMNCY). The Silver Apple Awards are bestowed upon those who have made significant contributions to the direct marketing industry throughout their career. Co-ops are very much a part of the direct marketing and list industry and, I believe, extremely invested in making the industry stronger and more profitable. 

The interesting thing about co-ops is that all of them need to continue to support their modeling efforts, data quality, and cleanliness.  They also need to continue to develop additional offerings for catalogers to help them in an omnichannel world. Without mailers, co-ops are out of business, and that keeps the co-op databases continually looking for the next modeling tweak or data insight to move the needle for mailers.  In the article, I read about the reasons mailers use co-ops and the author made each reason sound like a negative. However, ease of use, less effective list cost, and consistency of mailing seem like really positive reasons to use a co-op from a business perspective. The article seemed to indicate that by using co-ops, mailers were forsaking higher response rates and ROI in turn for convenience.  In my career, I have worked as a list broker, list manager, catalog consultant, co-op account executive, and even started a co-op, and I can tell you that mailers DO NOT EVER stop pushing for better response and ROI every day with every model we build!

As the conversations continue around this four part blog series, I look forward to sharing my insights with you.  Until we blog again….

Andrea Stevens, Sr. Director of Data Solutions, Epsilon

Sales and Marketing professional with a career focus in early stage and entrepreneurial companies. Co-founder, NextAction, a co-operative database company. A strategic thinker and natural leader. Experienced in start-up operations and rapid growth environments. Credited for consistently increasing client base, sales revenue, client satisfaction and winning client confidence for multiple companies. Also led metric driven sales organizations of upwards of $40 million in revenue across multiple industries including catalog, retail, publishing, fundraising and clean-tech.