Brian Hession Shares the List Intelligence Approach with Marketing Automation Users

If you read our blog on a regular basis, you’ve heard us say it time and time again: Success with marketing automation is predicated by the process you design around it. A first step in that process is creating your ideal prospect profile. Once you’ve identified who your organization should be targeting, the next step is finding those prospects. You can have the best content and value proposition out there, but if you’re not getting it in front of the right people, you will not be successful. One way to ensure your message is being distributed to the right audience is to purchase a list and create an opt-in campaign. However, if you’re like me, you’re inundated with offers from list vendors claiming to have the most accurate and up-to-date contacts for your target market. With so many vendors available, it’s difficult to determine which ones are a) reputable and b) providing you with accurate data for contacts that meet the criteria of your ideal prospect.

To give you some insight into the world of list development, we took a moment to speak with Brian Hession, president and founder of Oceanos Inc, the industries’ largest independent list consultation firm. Approaching its tenth anniversary, Oceanos has a solid reputation and a loyal following of multi-industry blue chip clients, including some of the largest public companies in the US. Here’s what he had to say:

EM: What led you to start Oceanos?

BH: I actually entered the data industry over a decade ago as a client. I was working in Talbots’ catalog division, renting hundreds of lists – but I was making my decisions on which lists to rent mostly through trial and error. After Talbots, I moved on to work for some really progressive agencies like Digitas and Protocol. It always struck me that so much attention was given to the rest of the marketing strategy, while the list was an after-thought. When we started Oceanos in 2002, we knew we wanted to take that consultative marketing agency model and apply it to our customers’ data strategy. Our recommendations aren’t just about the lists; they’re also about our customers and their specific goals.

EM: What makes Oceanos different from traditional list brokers?

BH: The data industry is a tough market; as a result most brokers are also list managers – there’s more profit in list management. But we always knew that we didn’t want to be both a data manager AND a broker. We just felt that if we managed data, it would introduce a degree of bias. How could you not recommend the data you were managing? So we decided to remain completely independent – we don’t offer any in-house lists. This lets us be more flexible with our recommendations and put our customers’ needs before our own.

It was also important to me that my staff wasn’t simply taking list orders – I wanted Oceanos to be a partner to companies struggling to navigate the complicated list industry. We came up with the idea of “List Intelligence.” List Intelligence is our blend of analytics, historical knowledge, and strategic approach, which allows us to determine the optimal portfolio of list sources to reach a target audience. To help customers take the risk out of list purchases, Oceanos tracks response metrics across all of the data sources our clients use – aggregating the results and analyzing offer, timing, and segmentation factors when making our recommendations.

EM: What’s been the reaction from your customers?

BH: It’s been great. The thing about what I’ll call “traditional list brokering” is that if you’re just reselling a list, you’re not offering a whole lot of value. Most of those lists are available to everyone in the industry, and even if a list itself is exclusive, those contacts are probably out there somewhere else. Especially in a down economy, it’s easy to find yourself competing solely on price, which isn’t a great spot to be in. For our customers, we’re more than just a reseller – we’re a partner. They know that we’re constantly working to get them the best prices, but we’re also making sure that we’re doing ongoing quality monitoring of lists in use, constantly looking for new sources of data, and considering non-traditional avenues to reach potential prospects. Especially in this era of web 2.0, we’re not just talking to publications anymore. Communities are popping up everywhere, and they can be a great source for capturing buyers’ attention if you’re aware of them.

EM: Have you seen any trends in the industry in the wake of economic changes?

BH: Absolutely. Customers are much more focused on return on investment, and much more concerned about waste. We’ve seen a real increase of customer requests to target very specific market segments – often down to a list of account names. To that end, we’ve developed a proprietary software tool called the List Optimizer™, to help our customers do extremely specific segmentation across multiple lists without overlap or duplication. It also allows customers to request an ongoing feed of new contacts matching their criteria whenever they appear on one of the target lists.

EM: Does this mean that marketers have or should move away from awareness, or brand marketing?

BH: Not at all. That’s one of the real misconceptions that marketers often have about working with third party data. A lot of first-timers think that they can send a product pitch to the right list, and the phones will start ringing off the hook with orders. Just because a contact meets all of your criteria as a buyer, doesn’t mean they’re ready to buy. And if they are ready to buy, and you’re just contacting them now, chances are you’re late into the game. Some of the best campaigns we see are actually what we’d call “targeted awareness.” Companies that are willing to take the time to form a relationship with new contacts – to offer them education and value – are much more likely to make a sale at the end of the day.

We also see a lot of customers getting value by including “non-buyers” in their list segments. Whether they’re executives or users, these non-buyers often have more influence than we realize, and creating awareness about your potential value can help you drive a sale from within. Even if you’ve already made the customer sale, these contacts can help keep your footprint in place if you’re sending them the right messages.

EM: Do you have any advice for marketers looking to get value from their list purchases?

BH: Well, any time when other marketers are being cautious is a great time to get in the game. Know who you want to target, why, and what you want to say to them. And don’t be afraid to look at new sources and new channels once you build up a base of successful lists. The best strategy is one that looks forward.

Brian Hession is president and founder of Oceanos Inc, the industries’ largest independent list consultation firm. Approaching its tenth anniversary, Oceanos has a solid reputation and a loyal following of multi-industry blue chip clients, including some of the largest public companies in the US.Brian’s articles on list and demand strategy have also been published in The Pragmatic Marketer, Peppers & Rogers, DemandGen Report, Chief Marketer and Direct Marketing News. To learn how your firm can leverage Oceanos’ List Intelligence, download their SiriusDecision vendor profile: