3 Facts About Hotline Names
For decades, marketers have shaped their direct mail programs around the knowledge that the most recent customer or lead names to come onto a file, called a hotline, are the most responsive to be had in the marketplace. But now that we're marketing in the Internet age, with access to hotline segments on e-mail lists as well, has this select lost any of its luster?
Let's look at the question statistically. According to Chris DeMartine, director of business development at NextMark, a Hanover, N.H.-based provider of information and technology solutions that support list and insert media marketing and rental efforts, historical data of more than 452,000 orders placed across its list order system indicate nearly 12 percent had hotline select requests. Now, he explains, consider that about two-thirds of list rentals are compilation buys that don't offer hotlines, so that percentage is much higher. His guess puts hotline select requests on about 30 percent of all list rentals.
So what is it about hotline names that they never go out of style? Primarily, it comes down to three essential facts.
Fact #1: Recency Never Loses Currency
In his circulation analysis for various clients over the years, Gary Hennerberg, founder of Hennerberg Group Inc., a direct marketing consulting firm in Colleyville, Texas, consistently has seen hotline names perform better than actives. Statistically, he notes, there are always exceptions to every rule. But generally, "the hotter the name, the better it's going to respond," he says, adding that the value of recency is a "timeless aspect of direct marketing."
His list-testing experience leads him to put the increased performance of hotline names for most regular mail users at 10 percent to 25 percent.
While the majority of the testing around hotlines has involved postal lists, the concept should hold true for any of the e-mail address hotlines on the market. "Again, our testing would indicate that the more recent a person has done something online, the higher the predictability they will do something again," says Hennerberg, explaining that the source is not as important as the quality of the action and the recency.
Fact #2: Online Plays Well With Offline
The one development on the hotline front is a boon for marketers: The source doesn't dictate the channel for future offers.
"Once upon a time, I would have said that if there was a direct mail hotline, that it means that the propensity is much higher that this person would respond to direct mail than other approaches—which is still largely true, I would speculate," says Hennerberg. "I really don't have empirical data about that. What I do know is that the online-generated leads where you have postal addresses to mail can be very responsive names."
Fact #3: The Warmer the Lead, the Hotter the Response
Probably the one aspect of hotlines that marketers are struggling to reconcile with modern times is just how hot the new names really are.
"The difference right now is time compression," says Hennerberg. "Whereas back in the old days—which we would now characterize, in my mind, as two years ago—a direct mail hotline could be that 30-day or 60-day window. Within that window, you could be pretty confident in what you were doing. But I wonder if in the online world that compression has now gone from 30 to 60 days to 30 or 60 minutes ... or hours. And I think that's what marketers are having to respond to."
Although data processing technologies have advanced, the list update process hasn't changed so much that hotline names are any more accessible in the 21st century. "Because the process isn't fully integrated from the transactional side at the client (being the list owner) through the service bureau, through the datacard," DeMartine explains, the gap can be 45, 60 days between the transaction date and the data card update. "I'd say traditionally it's pretty close," he adds, "and it's gotten a lot better. But that's where it's important to deal with reputable data partners."
So, not all 30-day hotlines are exactly the same in terms of timing. But for each list, the 30-day hotline is the most recent segment of names available, and thus the most likely to respond. And that's good enough for many marketers.
In fact, says Hennerberg, for marketers in some verticals, being first in the mailbox is imperative to response; for them, it's worth the additional cost to process and mail hotline names the minute they become available. Some even mail at First Class rates to better ensure their likelihood of reaching these recent responders first, he notes.
Of course, you should only do this with tested, proven lists, he explains.
To truly capitalize on recent activity, DeMartine thinks the "real value is in real-time interaction." He calls the websert—an ad that appears on a customer's or lead's confirmation page—a "four-second hotline," and anticipates the industry will be heading toward more of those types of "rental" opportunities.