SAGE Publications: A Case of Collecting Customer Data

Article ImageCompany: SAGE Publications is an independent international publisher of journals, books, and electronic media. Founded in 1965 by Sara Miller McCune with her husband George McCune, with the hope of distributing vital research from new and growing fields of study, SAGE now employs more than 1,200 people globally from its main offices in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., London, New Delhi, and Singapore. Its work has helped to inform and educate a global community of scholars, practitioners, researchers, and students spanning a range of subject areas including business, humanities, and the social sciences and science, technology, and medicine.

Business Challenge: As a publisher of more than 600 science, math, and technical and social science and humanities journals on behalf of more than 250 societies, SAGE has a lot of customers to juggle. With a lot of customers comes a lot of customer data, so in 2011, in order to improve its data-driven prospecting, cross-selling, and renewal activities, as well as better understand its customers’ needs and demands, SAGE decided it was time to invest in a customer insights solution and finally have the ability to view its customer data from a more holistic vantage point.

Vendor of Choice: DataSalon
DataSalon Ltd. is a provider of customer insight solutions for academic publishers. Established in 2006 by Nick Andrews and Jon Monday, DataSalon launched its core product, MasterVision, in response to the problem of establishing a synchronized view of multiple databases without having to replace or upgrade existing systems. After its launch, the MasterVision system was immediately adopted by Oxford Journals and by the BMJ Group, which publishes BMJ (the British Medical Journal). DataSalon’s client list now includes the American Institute of Physics, IOP Publishing Ltd., and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Challenge in Depth

In a world of constantly shifting consumer demand and increased market competition, publishers of all kinds, no matter their field of expertise, need a little help in understanding how they can stay ahead of their competitors and increase their revenue, and perhaps most importantly, what their customers are looking to get from their brand. Academic publisher, SAGE, recognized this need. That’s why in 2011, it decided to cut out the guesswork of consumer targeting and, instead, get a handle on its customer data by implementing a customer insights program.

Clive Parry, global marketing director for SAGE, explains that as the company was considering the role of a customer insights program, “There was a strong belief that consolidating all library-related customer data—from individual, institutional, and consortia customers—would enable SAGE to provide better service: identifying unfulfilled demand and offering more targeted marketing.”

It seemed that the MasterVision tool from DataSalon, a company with no shortage of experience in working with academic publishers, would be the perfect fit. “DataSalon has built a strong reputation for their supportive, flexible approach, and excellent service,” says Parry.

Nick Andrews, managing director for DataSalon, explains that the MasterVision system is unique because of its data-driven approach, which “makes it possible to create a comprehensive ‘data warehouse’ solution for all of a publisher’s customer data.” Ease of use is also key. “It’s a web based service which is fully managed and hosted by us, so from the publisher’s point of view it’s just a case of logging in and getting to work with the data,” says Andrews. “The primary objective was to provide customer insight to enable SAGE to run highly targeted, data-driven prospecting, cross-selling and renewal activities.”

Before enlisting MasterVision, SAGE was “hoping that working with DataSalon will help provide us a consolidated view of our library customers. In turn, the work will result in a greater ability to give library customers better communication, more targeted offers, and the ability to make informed and evidence-based purchasing decisions,” says Parry. In just a matter of weeks, SAGE would find out whether MasterVision would indeed make its data dreams come true.

The Solution

While some customer insight programs can take up to a few months to compile and sort all the necessary data, it only took DataSalon a little more than a month to get SAGE up and running, says DataSalon’s Andrews. “We implemented MasterVision in a very short timescale of 1 month, bringing together a variety of data for individual, institutional, and consortia customers, including their subscriptions, author submissions, article usage, and ‘turnaways’ data. All of that data was brought together from several different source systems, and integrated into a comprehensive single customer view within MasterVision.”
MasterVision’s search tools allow SAGE’s users to filter results according to which companies have subscriptions, pay per articles, or use online articles, cutting down on the time it would take to find this information by manually searching the database. Additionally, for a more in-depth look at a specific customer, MasterVision allows users to drill down into individual data sources to view detailed information for each record.

MasterVision also gives its customers a bird’s-eye view of their data. For SAGE, having all of this information in one central place allowed it to better understand what kind of customers they were serving, and in turn, what kind of information they found valuable. With this data at hand, the “sales and marketing staff are able to use the system to view, segment, and analyze all of that data in a very visual way,” says Andrews. Features such as interactive Venn diagrams and the ability to configure charts by choosing to show or exclude blanks, change colors or highlighting, or switch to data-table view are only a few ways MasterVision aids in data discoverability.

Another plus for MasterVision, according to Parry, is that “the MasterVision tool also incorporates data from Ringgold’s Identify database, which enables enrichment of information for existing institutional subscribers, and provides insight to potential new prospects classified by location, size, and subject interests.”

The Outcome

It didn’t take long for SAGE to start seeing results. Once it implemented DataSalon’s MasterVision, “SAGE was able to identify strong new prospects by demonstrating unmet demand for [its] content. Prospect lists generated from MasterVision enabled [Sage] to secure a significant return on the project within a matter of months. Helping libraries to make informed and evidence-based purchasing decisions is also enabling much more effective communication with customers,” says Andrews.

Parry adds, “Through using MasterVision to provide enhanced data mining and to enable more focused marketing campaigns, SAGE has seen an immediate return on the investment made. Librarians have valued seeing consolidated user information that DataSalon has uncovered when making their purchasing decisions.”

Unfortunately, when you are working with large amounts of data, there is always the risk of running into unforeseen problems. Luckily, DataSalon’s founders have more than 15 years’ experience managing large-scale IT projects and have taken precautions so they are ready for any situation. “The major challenge in a ‘single customer view’ project of this kind is to accurately integrate and de-duplicate customer data which is coming from a wide variety of different source systems. It’s critical to be able to identify where the same individual or institution appears in different source systems (for example as an author, a subscriber, and a newsletter recipient) and to join all of that information together into a single, comprehensive record,” says Andrews. “We have a lot of tools to tackle this problem combined with many years of experience working with customer data from many large publishers, so we were able to address this challenge within a matter of weeks.”

Parry was well aware of how large of an undertaking compiling SAGE’s data would be, and he also knew it would be an ongoing process. “It always takes work to pull together data in required formats from multiple systems for the initial load, and then continuing those efforts to establish feeds on an on-going basis,” says Parry.

In the end, though, both parties agree that it was worth the difficulties. As Parry says, “Our experience of working with DataSalon has thus far been very rewarding.” Andrews agrees, “We’re delighted to be working with SAGE, and it’s great to be able to demonstrate a clear return on investment so quickly. We are now looking forward to getting further into the detail of all of their rich data to help them create fresher customer insights.”