“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is not only a favorite holiday jingle; it provides sage advice to direct marketers on the importance of direct mail lists and checking them twice. Let’s review what Santa has to say so your next campaign gives you no reason to pout.
1. He’s making a list.
Often considered the most important element of a successful direct mail campaign, lists can be acquired in a few different ways. Many marketers use their own customer lists, while others take advantage of a) list brokers b) agencies that subscribe to services such as SRDS Lists or c) data analytics groups that license data from compilers and credit bureaus such as Experian and Equifax. The right choice for you will depend on your goals.
List brokers like American List Counsel and All Media Inc. have access to all sorts of data, and because they are brokers acting on behalf of the list owner, their commission (typically around 20%) is paid by the list owner. They are a great resource if you are looking to acquire publication data, competitive data, specialty lists or other compiled data. Most full-service list brokers also negotiate price, list selections and any key coding or processing that needs to come directly from the list owner. Agencies may also work with list providers and may be able to deliver the same services.
The list market continues to change, and over the past few years, the trend has been away from brokers and toward data analytics firms. These firms work toward developing predictive models and sophisticated analytics targeting solutions, using outside list data to empower their efforts. Many of these analytics firms have high-volume licenses for common data sources such as Axciom and Experian. They can provide a wealth of analytics to help you reach your goals. On the other hand, they may not be suited for micro-targeting efforts, so it’s important for new marketers to have solid goals in place before looking at lists.
2. And checking it twice.
Making sure direct mail lists are accurate and current is crucial. The biggest error I see is a lack of planning, both in who is buying which list and why, or even purchasing the wrong list. It is rare to see a qualified marketer fail to do the basics, but here are a few things to think about. You should always remove duplicate records and clean the file for consistency with Postal Service records. Another step is updating the list to account for people who have moved by running the file through NCOALINK (National Change of Address). It’s also a good idea to spot check the data and look for oddities. Even a simple scan through the records can sometimes be telling. One common error is not key coding the data at a record level. If you deal with multiple data sources, you will need a way to distinguish which record was from which list. Key codes can help you do that even after the file has been combined with other files.
3. Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.
Consumers opting-out should be a real concern for marketers. In fact, sending low-affinity or irrelevant offers is a fast track to the naughty list. Make sure your piece considers the benefit for the consumer. No one likes “junk mail” but everyone loves a valuable offer presented in a friendly and clear manner. It’s also important to look at your contact strategy. Mail too often and recipients will start ignoring you. Mail to the wrong people and you may be leaving money on the table.
4. He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.
There is a tremendous amount of consumer information available, but unlike Santa Claus, today’s marketers must rely on three important data points to make the most of it: relevance, affinity and financial capability. Your target audience must have the financial resources and discretionary income to buy what you are selling; they must also be interested in it. For example, a man who is interested in climbing and who subscribes to a rock climbing magazine is a much better candidate for a climbing gear offer than someone who subscribes to a cooking magazine. It may seem simple, but affinity for the product or category is important. Relevance is also something to keep in mind. Promoting a seasonal offer out of season will be difficult to make it seem relevant to the recipient. So consider who you are targeting, how the data was acquired and what you can discover about relevance and affinity. However, buyers beware that low-cost data is typically compiled with very little information, affinity or otherwise, to help identify your best targets.
Be sure to follow Santa’s lead when it comes to your direct mail lists—and your response rates will take off before you can say Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
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