Datamann Turns 40

This fall, Datamann celebrates our 40th anniversary.  I don’t usually write shameless plugs about Datamann, but that is exactly what today’s posting is – a shameless plug for our company and our services. If you have no interest in learning a little about Datamann, who we are, and how we got to where we are, you can skip today’s posting and still do OK on the final exam at the end of the semester.

Jake's-Leaves

 1975 – How We Got Started

John Mann founded Datamann as a software company serving magazine and newspaper publishers that needed a product to track their subscribers. Datamann still has several newspapers that have been clients for almost the full 40 years, still using some of our original products.

But John saw the need for a new type of mail order management software to aid the then rapidly expanding catalog industry. In 1979, Datamann introduced Mail Order Software Plus (MOSP), one of the first completely “turnkey systems” designed for the catalog industry, and programmed to function simultaneously in all areas of a catalog company.  MOSP was more than just an order processing system – it handled marketing and operational functions, including inventory, warehouse zone/location, forecasting, vendor purchasing, special offers, manifesting, and of course, order processing. Early installers of the system included Chadwick’s, Bloomingdale’s and J Crew, all of whom eventually purchased the software code from Datamann, and brought the system “in-house”.

The Touch of Class catalog first acquired MOSP in 1980 and has been using the system ever since, earning Datamann the distinction of being Touch of Class’s longest continuously serving vendor/partner.

1980s/1990s – List Processing and Databases

With the introduction of MOSP, Datamann developed heavy duty computing power in our Wilder VT headquarters. With numerous main frame computers, it was a logical step for Datamann to begin offering merge purge and other list processing services to catalog and retail clients. Over the past 30+ years, Datamann has served as the merge purge “service bureau” to many large and small catalogers.  The computers no longer take up a whole room (they now fit in several small server cabinets), but we still process millions of transactions weekly for our clients.

In the mid-1980s, Datamann developed a proprietary database platform with built in RFM segmentation. It was one of the first databases to feature the ability to track multiple “channels” of activity, such as different catalog titles, or track telephone activity separately from retail (and now web) activity. This flat-file database, with its simple and elegant design, has been augmented with a SQL relational overlay, allowing Datamann to provide clients with detailed queries into their data, gaining in-depth knowledge of the customer’s activities.   We also offer more advanced, fully relational marketing databases, including MarketWide, as an option for large clients that needed a detailed campaign management tool. Meant for the daily “power user”, MarketWide is our database option for clients who process hundreds of thousands to millions of transactions a year, and need to analyze that data daily.

What sets us apart from other database providers is that we have multiple database options for different applications and different budgets. As with many other things that we do, we don’t believe in just offering a “one size fits all” solution.

2000s – POS

Since many of Datamann’s mail order clients also have a retail presence, Datamann acquired a local Vermont based company in the mid-2000s which sold and serviced Counterpoint POS systems. This provided us with further insight into the needs of multi-channel retailers, as well as a new client base of retail companies, originally mostly in the New England area, but now spread across the country. Datamann is an authorized dealer of NCRs Counterpoint software and equipment.

2010s – Still Datamann, Still Family Owned

Through forty years of service, John Mann has remained CEO of the company. Though mostly retired today, the company is run jointly by his son Bill Mann (COO) and daughter Kathy Reagan (CFO).  Both of them have been with the company for almost 30 years, both serving in many different job functions along the way. Bill started as the 3rd shift tape operator and Kathy was a software technician.   They continue to carry forward the company’s tradition of personal service and high ethical standards. And with an eye toward future directions, a 3rd generation of the Mann family, Jennifer Reagan (Kathy’s daughter), is now working in List Processing.

Many of our employees have been with the company for 20+ years, including Rich Berger, a veteran of 39 years. Half of our total staff has been here more than ten years – and in an industry where Account Managers change daily, we are very proud of our staff’s tenure, and the longevity they have with their respective clients.

My personal connection to Datamann began in 1986, when Kathy Reagan and I both worked at the Stitchery/Potpourri Catalogs just outside Boston. When I went to Brookstone in 1989, I moved Brookstone’s processing and database (almost 8 million records) to Datamann, and I was a client for ten years, working with Bill Mann and John Nadeau, our head of List Processing, who also still here. Over the years that I worked at Millard Group, I steered many mailers here to Datamann, and still work with those same clients now. I have had a 25+ year relationship with the company which has proven to be one of the most enjoyable places I have worked.

Why Wilder, Vermont?

John Mann is a graduate of Dartmouth College, just across the river from Datamann, in Hanover, NH. When John was starting the company, he knew he wanted to stay in the “Upper Valley” region of New Hampshire/Vermont. He also knew there would be long-term advantages if the company owned its own building, because all the computer and telecommunication equipment required to operate the company would require extensive installations and continual changes.  Though it has its own ZIP code, Wilder is technically one of five small villages that make up the town of Hartford, Vermont, which has an overall population of just less than 10,000.  When Datamann was looking for a building to call home, Wilder’s former supermarket was for sale, and was the perfect fit for Datamann’s needs.

A local Connection – The Vermont/New Hampshire Marketing Group

In 1989, a group of local direct marketers recognized the multitude of mail order and direct marketing companies in our two state region. Even though the two states have a combined population of less than 2 million people (less than 0.6% of the entire US population), Vermont has the highest per capita number of catalog companies in the country, and New Hampshire is second. For a number of historical reasons Vermont and New Hampshire are home to many well-known catalog brands. Datamann became one of the first members of the group.

Over the years, both John Mann, and I served as President of the Group (as did my wife Shari).  Kathy Reagan, Datamann’s CFO, served for many years as Treasurer of the Group, and Jennifer Raines, Datamann’s Data Maven, serves as Treasurer today.

Each spring, Datamann sponsors a one-day seminar for the VT/NH Marketing Group, dealing with various aspects of the catalog and ecommerce industry. The 2016 seminar is devoted to new customer acquisition and will again feature Kevin Hillstrom and Amy Africa. The event – which is free to attend for Datamann clients – drew over 170 attendees in 2015.

Datamann is also an active member of NEMOA, ACMA and the DMA.

A Thanks to our Clients and A Personal Comment

Datamann’s continued growth could only be achieved by the continued support of our clients. We have clients that have been with us for 35+ years, as well as new clients just signing on in 2015.   We continue to expand and update our products and services, working with catalogs and ecommerce companies in the UK and the US. And we will be here for many more years to come.

And many thanks to Datamann’s own Jake Foley for use of his “Fall Foliage in Vermont” photos accompanying this posting.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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Forever Together – Except in A Database

I rarely get excited by mailings anymore – but I received one this week that was worth sharing. It was from the Danbury Mint – who is not a Datamann client.

One of the things that always puzzles me is that if I order from a catalog which is one from which both my wife and I order (Lands’ End is an example), no matter how often I order, the subsequent catalogs always come addressed to her. Even all the prospect catalogs that we receive, where I know that names are coming from a co-op, almost all come addressed to her, even though I know that the original order that would have sparked us getting that prospect book, was from a transaction I initiated.

I bring this up because I was impressed by the mailer that I received below from the Danbury Mint, which was addressed to me, but which referred inside to both me and my wife’s name. In three spots! One is in the headline, and the other is on the pendant itself, and a third (not pictured here) was on the flip side. That’s a pretty cool use of personalization. I would have been even more impressed if they had used “Bill” instead of “William”, but my credit card is under William, so I can’t expect miracles.

Danbury-Mint-Mailer_edited-

I’ve never bought anything from the Danbury Mint, so this is a prospecting piece probably prompted by a jewelry purchase I made last year for my wife from a traditional catalog. All of the co-ops have both my name and my wife’s name in their database. But, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a use of that combined data.

Most databases are maintained at the individual level, but most merges are done at the household level, under the assumption you only want to mail one piece at a time per address. Most of the time that is true, a basic tenet of circulation planning. But you should test it, and you should even test mailing the alternate name you have at a household on your own database, not always deferring to one gender.

For prospecting, obviously if you have a female apparel offer, you probably want to stick with female names only from the co-ops. But if you have a gift offer that is fairly gender neutral, you should test taking the female name from a household on one mailing, and the male name from that same household on the next mailing. Have your service bureau identify in the merge the households that are repeated in the merge from one mailing to the next (if you have not already measured this, you’ll be amazed at how many names are repeats from the co-ops), where you are using a female vs. male name. You may not see a significant incremental difference between male and female names in response, but at least you are contacting all of the potential buyers at that household.

One last point – this promotion from the Danbury Mint is an excellent example of an old-fashion saturation promotion. The same week I received the mailer, I received a generic version (for a generic couple named Jonathan and Mary Ann) of the piece as a blow-in inside a Cabela’s catalog, and there was a one-page ad for the product in Sunday’s Parade Magazine in our local paper. I suspect that ad appeared as a nation-wide FSI last Sunday.

Danbury-Mint-Sunday-Parade-

Danbury-Mint-Blow-In

On the other hand, I made a catalog request from a new client’s website five weeks ago. No matter where I’ve gone online in the past five weeks, I’ve been retargeted with an ad for this mailer. But here’s the punch line – this new client is decidedly upscale ($400 average order for high-end men’s apparel).  They would be shocked (shocked!) if they saw some of the low-end sites where their ad keeps popping up, including a snow tire comparison site. The Danbury Mint is tightly – and expertly – controlling their message and promotion. In my opinion, most of the mailers that trust their holiday season’s sales to online retargeting have no idea where they are spending their ad dollars.  I’m no Luddite, but there’s still a lot to be said for well-executed old-fashioned direct mail campaign.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

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Small Details that Can Kill The Effort

Merge purge is like genealogy. When it’s your own genealogy and family history, it can be interesting, but when it is someone else’s, it can be incredibly boring.

If you’ll notice, I’ve never written in this blog about merge purge processing, even though it is one of Datamann’s core products/services. Trying to write something interesting about merge purge is a challenge. It is a critical function that we perform for clients – but let’s face it, there’s not a lot of drama in merge purge.

Until it goes wrong.

I received these two catalogs today (May 17th), one promoting Coors beer products, the other Miller beer products. I thought it was really odd that I’d get both, since they are competing brands. Miller and Coors merged in 2008, but the company still targets and promotes each brand separately.  Plus, I don’t drink beer – and never have. So, their targeting was way off.

Miller-COors-Fronts

But here is the odd part – the reason that I received both catalogs is that one was addressed to “William LaPierre” and the other to “LaPierre William” – but both at the same street address.

 

So, what went wrong? The most likely scenario is that they acquired my name from two different sources, where one source had my first and last name reversed. Datamann often receives files from list owners where this is the situation. But, when it happens, usually every record on the file is reversed, and we would catch the error during the pre-merge conversion process. My guess is that a traditional service bureau did not do the merge for this – it was probably done by the printer or mail shop. They can execute a merge, but they don’t know all the nuances of the data that a company like Datamann deals with daily.

Was is a disaster? It depends on how many records got duplicate catalogs. What caught my eye was that on the cover of the catalogs, they used the same models. My reaction was “Hey – they aren’t very loyal to their brand, because here they are drinking Coors and over here, they’re drinking Miller”.  A seemingly minor detail – getting the merge correct – ruined the entire effect of showcasing two distinct brands.

But here was the real disaster of these two catalogs. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I believe in having more products online than in the catalog. Drive the consumer to your website to make the purchase by letting them know you have more products online. But, I’m also a believer in featuring the products you displayed on the front cover of the catalog, prominently on the opening spread. Or at least, somewhere in the catalog!

I looked for the shirts and the caps the models are wearing on each cover in their respective catalogs, and never found them. Just by chance, I spotted this tiny little type on the back cover, right near the address block.

Miller-Beer-Back

Who’s going to see that!  This is an example of a catalog designed by an agency that sold the client on the concept of branding. It was not designed to drive response. Since I’m not a beer drinker, I can only guess at what demographics they pulled to target my name (rural guy over 50 that owns a backhoe?).

So the next time you contemplate having your printer do your merge, instead of a traditional service bureau like Datamann, and you wonder “what could go wrong?”, remember these two catalogs.

 

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 802-295-6600 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

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