DataSalon has recently been adopted as a customer integration solution by some big names such as Oxford University Press and the British Medical Journal. Briefly tell us what exactly does this system do?
Our system solves two major issues related to customer data held by publishers.
Firstly, it automatically joins up multiple sources of customer data into a single, consolidated view. This might include subscribers, registrants, authors, recipients of email alerts, and so on.
Secondly, it provides a really fast, user-friendly web interface so that it can be used directly by marketing staff to search and analyse their customer base without requiring an 'IT guy' to help.
Many companies are looking into Customer Relationship Management and related systems at the moment. How is this different to other data solutions in the market?
DataSalon provides the benefits of a conventional CRM system without the cost, risks, and long implementation times which CRM normally requires.
It's an entirely web-based system, so there’s no installation required, and there aren't any hidden IT costs for buying servers, database licenses and so on.
It works alongside a publisher's existing systems rather than replacing them, which removes the risk of 'breaking' any existing processes.
We have also developed an innovative way of designing the search and reporting tools automatically based on the publisher's own data. This creates a fully-customised system without the need for expensive consultancy and design work.
Have you seen any new marketing practices being put in place around this new system?
Yes - because it's so easy for marketing staff to run detailed searches across their different sets of customer data, our clients are beginning to be even more creative and carry out more targeted marketing campaigns.
An example from the journals world might be a campaign to target contacts who have requested email alerts or free sample issues for a given title, but have not yet bought a subscription to it. Even though this is a query across separate sources of data, it now takes a matter of seconds for the marketing staff themselves to create these lists.
The fact that staff can begin to 'play' with the customer data directly is also significant: an ability to explore hunches, chart how customers break down by region / product / gender etc. means that marketing staff can work more creatively and begin to do what they have always wanted to, rather than feeling constrained by systems which sometimes require a database expert to use them.
Issues of cleaning, integrating, and developing data seem to be a major area of growth at the moment in many industries. Why do you think this is?
I think it's a natural progression from the growth in the use of electronic systems over the past 10 years.
Several years ago the hot topics were the challenges of beginning to sell and publish online at all, and of managing customers and contacts via databases rather than on paper. Due to the complexity of these changes, it made sense to put in place separate systems over a period of years for subscriptions, e-commerce, online publishing, etc.
From there, the clean-up and integration of customer data from these different systems is the obvious next step. Retailers such as Amazon and Tesco have demonstrated how much can be done with customer data in terms of targeted marketing and cross-selling, and it's natural for marketing teams to want to get the most out of the valuable data they have collected.
Increasingly the ability to access, analyse and use their data it is becoming a major competitive issue for publishers.
As a business is DataSalon focused entirely on issues of customer data integration?
Not entirely. Our aim is to provide our clients with flexible, real-world solutions with as little stress and expense to themselves as is possible. With this in mind we also provide customised data consultancy and services in addition to the core customer integration product.
For example, we have a lot of experience in digitizing content, including managing the digitization of the Oxford Journals archive which consisted of over 3 million printed pages.
Following on from this we are also providing consultancy and project support to BSI British Standards relating to e-publishing and XML data capture and conversion.
We’ve also been using the same tools to integrate catalogue (as opposed to customer) data. For example, we completed a project for JISC last year to create an online tool to compare and contrast the title listings from 15 different bibliographic and citation databases.
What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges for publishers in 2007 in relation to their existing database marketing activities?
In publishing and elsewhere it's well-known that customers are becoming increasingly wary of bulk marketing, and are beginning to expect a higher degree of personal relevance in email and direct mail communications. It's beneficial both for the customer and for the publisher if communications can be targeted, timely and relevant, and I think that is a common aim across the industry at the moment.
Beyond marketing campaigns there are also many opportunities still to be explored fully in terms of real-time personalisation. With good customer data on hand behind the scenes it's perfectly feasible to welcome a customer to a publisher's website by name, and present them with links and content of particular interest to them. Selling targeted advertising in a similar way could also create additional revenue.
I'd say the biggest challenge facing publishers in terms of database marketing is the perception that it's an IT issue rather than a business issue. An IT-led project can sometimes produce a highly technical solution which the marketing team can't entirely understand or easily use. I'd say the publishers who will be most successful at database marketing will be the ones who drive these projects via their marketing teams to ensure they really get what they need.
Who do you consider your major competitors in the market today? What are DataSalon’s strengths and weakness versus your competitors?
As noted above our closest competitors are the CRM providers, although there are fundamental differences in that they will often be replacing systems rather than working alongside them.
What we can offer in terms of flexibility and turnaround time makes us pretty unique at the moment, and we are keen to make the most of this position before any serious competition might emerge.
I'd say our major strength is that we are not ‘just another IT supplier’. We pride ourselves on being easy to work with and on speaking plain English, and we provide a ‘hassle-free’ solution which is effective, affordable and really user-friendly.
Our biggest weakness is probably that we are a new company and therefore less well known, so at the moment we need to work harder to get into meetings with the right people. We can see that changing already though, as we are beginning to get 'word of mouth' referrals from existing customers.
Comment on your company’s performance, for the fiscal 2006, highlighting key challenges that were successfully tackled. What are your growth plans for 2007/08?
We've only just finished our first year of trading, and during that time have successfully taken the concept from 'bright idea' to a successful business which is already in profit. As with any start-up, the biggest challenge was in creating something from nothing, and we had to work a lot of evenings and weekends in order to get the system built, while doing freelance project management during the day in order to pay the bills.
Plans for 2007/08 focus around raising awareness and growing our client list, and on enhancing the customer integration platform further. At the moment we're working on adding mapping features so that customers can be highlighted visually on world maps.
Now that we have a very robust platform for web-based services, we are also working on some additional products related to catalogue data and flexible XML-based publishing. I guess it’s the traditional growth plan: sign up more customers, and sell more things to your existing customers!
It's an exciting time now because the business is starting to take on a momentum of its own and we’re getting loads of good feedback from our clients. Things are really taking off this year, and it feels like we’re well set up for further growth.