Add a Little Zip

Everybody likes to put a little zip in their step, but watch your step when it comes to asking web visitors about their ZIP Code. Plan how you’ll use that data before you collect it.

When it comes to collecting profile data about people nothing is easier to obtain – and sometimes harder to use – than a ZIP Code. Asking a web visitor for their ZIP Code is becoming commonplace as sites use dealer locator software and services to help people find stores in their area.

A person’s ZIP Code provides more than geographic location – sometimes it’s possible to derive meaningful psychographic information from it as well.

As ZIP Codes are not numerically contiguous, two sequential ZIP Codes may be miles apart, which makes it challenging to calculate distances between two points. Each store location must have its latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates stored in a database, as well as the appropriate coordinates for each ZIP Code. Special software is then used to calculate the closest locations to the web visitor’s ZIP Code. Companies like Vicinity handle this function on an outsourced hosting basis while maintaining the look and feel of a web site.

However, most sites just show a list of retailers near the visitor’s location without taking advantage of potential marketing and sales opportunities. They just leave it up to the web visitor to print the page and find time to locate the dealer. I wonder how many sales are lost by leaving it up to the consumer to follow through and visit the retailer.

A better approach is to treat the location request as the beginning of a decision to buy something, then stay involved through the person’s visit to the retailer and subsequent purchase.

There are several ways to follow through, depending on the value of personal attention relative to additional revenue generated.

For instance, you can ask consumers if they would like to have someone at the retailer contact them. Having worked in a sales environment where the marketing group at headquarters distributed numerous unqualified leads to salespeople, I know how difficult it is to motivate salespeople to follow up on this type of lead. The secret to making this work is to gather enough additional information from the prospect so the salesperson can qualify the lead and determine how much effort is reasonable to expend on the prospect.

For inexpensive products this type of personal follow-up is uneconomical; however, for more expensive products with higher margins, this attention could generate additional sales.

Salespeople sometimes just don’t have time to follow up even with qualified leads, so the system should be capable of automating functions such as sending a letter to the prospect on behalf of the dealer (and copying the dealer on it).

But there is more that can be done with ZIP Codes than match prospects with dealers.

As part of a web personalization system, ZIP Codes can help marketers learn a little about the demographics and psychographics of various segments of their market.

For instance, CACI has identified 43 lifestyle clusters that help marketers profile their markets. Just compare the data for your ZIP Code to that of 90210!

For content sites, ZIP Codes also allow geotargeting of banner ads on web sites and personalized email newsletters.

In addition, a web site’s operations staff can use ZIP Codes to evaluate Internet traffic patterns and decide whether caching servers would help improve server performance.

Storing each web visitor’s ZIP Code is relatively easy for sites with even a modest personalization system, but for sites not using databases to store profiles, the cookie can sometimes be used to remember that data.

Someone’s ZIP Code is great to help a web visitor find a retailer, but ZIP Codes provide even greater value by teaching us more about the people who visit us on the web.

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