Marketing in Vancouver: DM leads the way in BCAA expansion plans

The British Columbia Automobile Association was founded in 1906, a time when real horsepower reigned and cars were slow, clanking curiosities.Times change.Now, the 675,000-member bcaa has expanded its activities to include home insurance, overseas medical coverage, escorted tours, cruises, and more,...

The British Columbia Automobile Association was founded in 1906, a time when real horsepower reigned and cars were slow, clanking curiosities.

Times change.

Now, the 675,000-member bcaa has expanded its activities to include home insurance, overseas medical coverage, escorted tours, cruises, and more, as well as maintaining its roadside dispatch and automotive services.

At the sharp edge of this expansion is database marketing, which the association has phased in over the last seven or eight years.

Cathy Giles Cathro, vice-president of marketing for the bcaa, says the decision to move the association into database marketing came from a need to become more selective about new memberships.

‘By database marketing, we were able to achieve higher response rates and also some improved economies in getting greater returns on our marketing dollars,’ she says.

Giles Cathro says most of the association’s work in database marketing, up until now, has been in the membership field, with most of the focus being on new member acquisition.

‘Using [market research firm] Compusearch’s lifestyle profiling was one of the first things we did,’ she says.

‘We profiled newer members, and got some insight into their characteristics, and, subsequently, developed future mailing lists for new member acquisition programs based on what we learned from the previous lifestyle profile.’

Giles Cathro says when the bcaa was having its greatest success with database marketing just a few years ago, response rates in the 6% to 7% range were typical.

And, she says growth rates for new members were about 15% a year, a figure that’s ‘very high’ for auto clubs in North America.

She says the bcaa attributes those growth levels to its database marketing.

For new member acquisition, the bcaa developed a mailing list using lifestyle profiling, then identified those geographic areas that offered the greatest propensity for membership.

Typically, Giles Cathro says each mailing to those areas would be in the 150,000-piece range, and sent out two or three times a year on average.

About three years ago, she says the bcaa realized it wanted a complete marketing database, so plans were made to organize one.


She says the reason why this marketing database is necessary is the range of products it offers members and non-members alike, and the need to understand who are the people who buy more than one product or service from the organization.

With this marketing database in place, Giles Cathro says it will be used in a variety of ways.

One of these ways will be to better segment and understand who is buying what product from the bcaa.

Already, the association is experimenting with some predictive modelling, although the modelling will be done by companies with that kind of expertise.

‘But again, we need the foundation of data to look for the relationships that will help predict customers’ [behavior,]‘ Giles Cathro says.

Also, she says, the segmentation will allow the bcaa to draw up better targetted mailing lists and to identify what it calls the ‘bundles’ of services that appeal to different segments of its membership.

She says this approach will allow the bcaa to move away from marketing one product to one segment.

Instead, Giles Cathro says, the association will be able to market a bundle of products to a particular segment of consumers.

‘As an example, we know right now that people who buy travellers’ cheques from us have an above-average propensity for out-of-Canada medical [coverage,]‘ she says.

‘There’s one natural bundle that we know we’ll be pursuing.’

Within 12 months

With these sorts of plans in mind, Giles Cathro says she hopes the bcaa has a marketing database it can use in place within 12 months.

But, she says the bcaa will not stop there. It will ‘append’ secondary databases to its own database.

She says the Compusearch Lifestyles clusters are one example of this, but adds there are many other databases available.

‘It’s a dynamic database, and we’ll continue to keep it as current and as extensive as possible,’ she says.

She says one other use for the database is the management of the bcaa’s individual products.

‘We have, over the past few years, on a smaller scale than membership, been using database marketing for some of our travel products,’ Giles Cathro says.

‘Again, using as our database people who had previously purchased from us, looking at their profiles and then developing mailing lists from that for new programs,’ she says.

‘It has worked successfully, particularly with some of our cruise programs.’

As well as the development of a marketing database, the bcaa is also developing computer applications for its 20 branch offices so all transactions at the branches will be captured on computer and entered into the association’s database.

At the moment, Giles Cathro says some transactions at the branch offices are still done on paper, so if they are to be entered into a computer it becomes a separate task.

‘The intent is that at every point of direct contact, we’ll be capturing the information in a computerized database,’ she says.

One of the things capturing this information on computer and storing it in a database will do is help the bcaa’s marketing geographically.

Already, Giles Cathro says the bcaa knows that people who live along the u.s. border tend to buy more out-of-province medical insurance from the bcaa, something no one could have anticipated in 1906 when a car would not take you much beyond the edge of town.