Two announcements last week underscored the importance of email as a means for bridging the gap between online and offline customer data.
The first was the acquisition of Rapleaf, a provider of email marketing personalization solutions, by email data services provider TowerData.
And Facebook announced it was adding a feature within Custom Audiences that links offline sales with Facebook activity by cross-referencing email addresses, phone numbers, street addresses and encrypted transactional data.
TowerData’s acquisition of Chicago-based Rapleaf is the latest transition for a company that previously compiled consumer profiles out of information collected from social networks and matched those profiles with clients’ email databases.
In 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported that the company had transmitted identifying details about consumers, such as their Facebook and MySpace user ID numbers, which can be linked to a person’s name, to advertising firms. (Rapleaf claimed this was inadvertent.) Rapleaf no longer creates social data profiles, said CEO Phil Davis (who, following the TowerData acquisition, will retain his title).
“Four years ago, the topic was social data, but we no longer provide that service,” Davis said. “We’ve completely turned a chapter on that service. Now we provide demographic data.”
For approximately two and a half years, Davis estimated, Rapleaf has been building out its email database. It collects data points from surveys, public records, the US Census Bureau and other data aggregators, appends this information to email addresses and segments the addresses based on categories like gender, occupation, marital status and shopping behavior.
Clients will share their own email lists – hashed to preserve anonymity – with Rapleaf. Rapleaf compares these email addresses with its own database and charges the client for each data field or category that certain email addresses have been grouped under (e.g., the email addresses of consumers who have recently purchased a home, are discount shoppers and have x number of children).
The company claims that the email addresses are hashed and that all the data is anonymized. (Rapleaf also claims on its website that consumers can view, edit or opt out of its database.)
Rapleaf’s technology, Davis said, complements TowerData’s focus on helping direct marketers validate and update their customer contact information. Earlier this year, TowerData released its Email Intelligence product, which provides the name, demographic information, postal address and alternate email addresses associated with an email address.
“With the addition of Rapleaf,” TowerData CEO Tom Burke wrote in an email, “TowerData can now provide valuable insights about your customers as we clean your email list - giving email marketers the data they need to create relevant and engaging messages.”
The integration process between the two companies is expected to be completed in mid-2014, according to Davis. In addition to competing with other database providers such as Acxiom, Experian and Epsilon, TowerData also competes with Facebook, which unveiled on Friday an expansion of Custom Audiences to enable brick-and-mortar storeowners to determine whether their Facebook ads drove in-store sales.
Businesses can send information collected from surveys or in-store purchases – including encrypted sales data, email addresses, street addresses and telephone numbers – analyze it through Facebook Custom Audiences tool to determine how many users who saw ads eventually made a related purchase.