Wiland Group

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The Wiland Story

Phil Wiland
Phil Wiland formed the first iteration of the Wiland Companies in 1971.
Phil Wiland formed the first iteration of the
Wiland Companies in 1971.

The 1960s convulsed with rapid technology and social innovation. Essential to these transformations was the dawn of the Computer Age, characterized by the availability of affordable computers in the corporate, government and academic worlds. Advancing computer technology shook the foundation of America’s Mailing Industry and continues to do so today.

Early Days of Wiland

Phil Wiland was the catalyst and inspiration for the company that bears his name and that celebrated its 45th anniversary in 2016.  He and co-founder Jim Downs met during their college years in Missouri in the 1960s. Both worked during college in political campaigns, and Phil for a St. Louis PR firm that utilized direct mail.

Upon graduation they agreed that they would someday reunite and form a campaign management, public relations and direct mail firm. Phil joined the Air Force, working in data processing at Randolph and Andrews Air Force Bases. Jim moved to Washington D.C. and took a position with a non-profit national security educational organization, the American Security Council, which was just beginning to develop a direct mail fundraising program.

Phil worked at two Air Force data processing centers that were among the largest and most sophisticated of the era. He was part of a unit that built a new data center and developed entirely new software. Phil thus became knowledgeable about systems design and development and data center operations.

Meanwhile, Jim assumed management of a rapidly expanding direct mail fundraising program that quickly reached 16 million in annual mail volume. He was responsible for list selection and acquisition; print and envelope purchasing; computer and lettershop services; caging; and data entry.

Phil’s transfer to Andrews AFB put both he and Jim in the D.C. area.  They agreed there was a growing need for enterprises that could offer sophisticated computer services to meet the needs of political and nonprofit charitable fundraisers. They dropped their original idea to manage political campaigns and focused on data processing and direct mail.

In 1971 Phil formed the first iteration of the Wiland companies and began operations in the second story of a small office building next door to the Post Office in downtown Culpeper, Virginia. Wiland’s first computer was an IBM 360-22. It was too large to bring through the front door and up the stairs to the second story computer room, so an upstairs window was removed and a crane positioned in the parking lot below. Much to the delight of two hundred citizens observing the spectacle, the computer was hoisted skyward and eased through the window. It probably didn’t occur to anyone watching that they would someday have more computing power in their own pocket.

Several of Phil’s tech friends from the Air Force were also wrapping up their military careers. Phil recruited them to form the core of the company’s Computer Operations and Systems Development staff. The company quickly developed its initial software, focused on maintaining mailing lists and addressing computer letters and Cheshire labels, with advanced personalization features. Shortly thereafter, Phil Tobias and Wayne Shelley joined the company as part of the tech team.

Initially Jim continued to hone his direct mail skills at the ASC while simultaneously being deeply involved in specifications for Wiland’s initial software. In 1972 Jim joined the Wiland team full time as SVP for Client Service and began institutionalizing the company’s excellent reputation for quality service. Among the early Wiland clients that helped propel the company’s growth were the National Republican Congressional Committee, Ziff-Davis Publishing, the Salvation Army, 3M, National Cash Register, U.S. News & World Report, and the American Security Council.

Soon Wiland was maintaining mailing lists for clients whose combined mail volume exceeded 100 million annually. Though the fundraising market was very good to the company, it was cyclical. Thus, the company sought to diversify its client base. Mike Lawrence joined the company to manage its burgeoning fundraising client base while Jim Downs and others focused on diversification into publishing, mail order and financial services. Wiland’s relationships with Guy Yolton Advertising in Washington and Yeck Brothers Advertising of Dayton, Ohio helped open doors to new segments of the direct mail industry. Within a decade over 10% of all advertising and fundraising mail entered into the postal stream was the output of Wiland list maintenance, database, selection, and analytical systems.

Early Wiland Highlights

  • First D.C. area technology firm to effectively and systematically purge duplicates between mailing lists.

  • Introduced the first high- speed laser printer to produce direct mail computer letters.

  • Created the first national postal carrier route database, before the USPS created theirs.

  

As mailing volumes grew and mailers used many lists for the same campaigns, the cost of duplicate mailings to consumers became a huge issue. Rudimentary software that attempted to address this issue was developed by several firms.  Such software matched mailing lists against one another to purge duplicates. This process came to be known as merge/purge and is still used today.

In 1974, there was still no D.C. area company that offered merge/purge services. U.S. News & World Report was anxious to find a local supplier. Wiland developed a competitive merge/purge system and U.S. News & World Report began running its 25 million name annual mailing volume through the system. Through the remainder of the 70s and the 80s Wiland became the leading and most sophisticated merge/purge provider in the direct mail industry, dominating the publishing and fundraising fields, and also having significant market share in the financial services and catalog sectors.  

Mike Buoncristiano joined the firm and opened a sales office in New York. Mike was among the most personable and successful computer services sales professionals in the direct marketing industry. Though short in physical stature, Mike lit up every room he entered. Building on his personal success, Mike opened Wiland offices all over the country. He and his nationwide sales staff built a huge clientele for Wiland. 

Also in the mid 70s, AMR, a nationwide provider of business seminars, contracted with Wiland to build a proprietary customer relationship management system. The system Wiland developed was a precursor to 21st century database systems that now dominate the database ecosphere. Simultaneously, Wiland developed forward-looking new software for a major insurance marketer. These early database experiences led to even more sophistication in the 1980s, paving the way to the modern database era. 

On the hardware front, Wiland introduced the use of high-speed laser printers in the direct mail industry, first supplementing and eventually replacing impact printing of Cheshire labels and computer letters. This new technology could generate over 300,000 labels per hour vs. impact printers that topped out at 30,000 per hour.

In 1979 the United States Postal Service began offering postage discounts to mailers who sorted their mail to the carrier route level. However, the Postal Service did not yet have a national carrier route coding directory, so it was impossible to earn discounts in large volume using USPS resources alone. As these developments evolved, Wiland was the only firm in the country that anticipated the new discount regulation. Wiland gathered the data from individual postmasters all over the country and created a national directory. Wiland also developed software to match the street address of a consumer with the Wiland carrier route coding directory and then sort the mail by carrier route within ZIP Code. As a result, Wiland enabled Sears, Montgomery Ward, and other firms to take advantage of the carrier route discount immediately upon its availability. This strengthened Wiland’s position and reputation as the leading direct mail technology services innovator.

Highlights from the 1980s and 90s

  • Built early database systems that paved the way for the modern database era.

  • Developed Matchmaster Plus, the software that ushered in the modern age of efficient direct mail pre-production.

  • Developed software that, in subsequent releases, is still in use today to help direct mail and digital marketers reach consumers who are actually interested in the offer.

  

Wiland in the 1980s and 1990s

In 1985 Wiland announced Matchmaster Plus, its fourth generation merge/purge and mail processing system. Matchmaster Plus was the first software to use artificial intelligence techniques to purge duplicates from mailing lists. It also incorporated sophisticated data validation, enhancement, and external data application techniques with merge/purge, multi-buyer disposition options, test panel creation, ZIP Code application, carrier route presort, data append, and consumer profiles into a single workflow.

In 1986 Wiland began development of DB 2000, one of the early, fully integrated CRM systems in the direct mail industry. Sears, The Salvation Army and Citicorp were large pioneer users of this software that again reinforced Wiland’s position as the premier developer of direct mail software. Simultaneously, Wiland also began developing of some of the earliest predictive modeling systems to be used in the direct mail industry using purchase history, geographic data, demographics, psychographics, and lifestyle data to create promotional audiences for specific offers.

Matchmaster Plus and DB200 attracted clients such as Bank of America, American Express, Eddie Bauer, Lillian Vernon, Tiffany, Brooks Brothers, and hundreds more.

Phil Wiland had long been fascinated with the catalog industry during his work with Wiland clients. He believed a business offering consumable products that customers would purchase over and over again could be very successful. With this objective in mind he created a new Wiland division that offered a wide variety of personalized products, including the widest selection of themed return address labels ever offered. This became Colorful Images. Soon thereafter Wiland created retail brands Snoopy, etc. in cooperation with Charles Schulz, Garfield in cooperation with Jim Davis, and several other new catalogs, each of which also had an associated website. Wiland had millions in online revenue before most companies even had a website.

But technological innovation is the Wiland core. Wiland sold the consumer merchandise brands and focused on technology to help direct mail companies and multichannel marketers take advantage of Wiland’s advanced database and analytical capabilities. From the mid-90s until 2004, Phil Wiland, Phil Tobias, and others of the Wiland team developed an array of software resources that reflected the evolution of nearly every business from a single- or dual-channel operation to a multichannel platform. Direct mailers, retailers, and web-based enterprises came to realize they could not maximize growth and profitability in a single channel environment. Instead, a thriving enterprise necessarily had to engage in a multichannel approach that blended direct mail and other traditional media, brick and mortar retail, as well as internet and mobile channels into an integrated whole.

Wiland in the 21st Century

By 2004 Wiland had divested the other segments of its business in order to pave the way for launch of a new consumer intelligence cooperative database enterprise that helped establish and continues to expand the frontiers of multichannel marketing. For most businesses, this includes thriving activity in the direct mail channel as well as web and mobile channels. Wiland database and analytical platforms are widely known as among the very best available to help direct mail companies reach consumers who have real interest in their product or service–and also the best at reducing mail to people who are uninterested. Today Wiland is a leading provider of such services to thousands of charities, retailers, publishers, travel companies, and other sectors.

The engine that powers Wiland’s innovative solutions is The Wiland Database, interfaced with proprietary analytical platforms that help marketers and consumers alike by getting the right offers to the right people.

Wiland has always been a leading advocate of best practices, including consumer protection and privacy. Unlike many other data cooperatives, Wiland does not sell consumer data. It is protected securely.  No consumer information such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, or bank account numbers is stored, so there is no such risk associated with Wiland data. Rather, Wiland clients are provided profiles and audiences that help them increase sales by reaching consumers with actual interest in the marketer’s offer. Wiland helps marketers understand their customers better and reach their markets more effectively, more profitably.

Looking to the Future

Wiland believes in a bright tomorrow. Technology continues to change the way marketers reach consumers, and the way consumers interact with everything around them. Wiland is dedicated to helping consumers by protecting their privacy and reducing the incidence of unwanted marketing offers they receive. Wiland is also dedicated to helping its clients operate more effectively and efficiently, producing better results that drive success.

  

Today and Tomorrow

Rising postage rates, paper costs, and printing costs have made it difficult for companies that have traditionally relied on direct mail to increase volume. Total direct mail volume has been relatively static in recent years, even as display advertising and other digital media are growing rapidly. Wiland is very active in the new media and channels, but has also maintained a very strong commitment to direct mail. In fact, in 2015, Wiland’s direct mail technology products increased in revenue 27%, even as the overall direct mail channel was comparatively flat. This is possible because Wiland makes mail more effective, using insights and analytics to help clients reach the right consumers.

Wiland’s unique combination of a marquee client list, talented staff, and a history and tradition of cutting-edge innovation leaves it perfectly positioned to lead clients through the present day maze of marketing challenges and opportunities.

Diagram of the process of the Wiland Group Database
This is the process of the Wiland Group Database.
This is the process of the Wiland Group Database.