Belvoir Media Group, based in Norwalk, Conn., is a publisher of reader-focused newsletters and magazines. Its publications cover such enthusiast topics as horses, aviation, sailing, pets and sports shooting, and in the last few years, it has expanded into the health arena, targeting mainly an aging baby boomer population. For Tom Canfield, the publisher’s vice president of circulation in charge of the health and aviation groups, success in these tight vertical markets requires making the most out of each and every list he has at his disposal.
Canfield spoke with me about the importance of taking a good, hard look at your merge/purge, your partnership opportunities and your profit and loss.
Tracy Gill: A good merge/purge is one of the fundamentals of effective list use. Can you talk about some of the intricacies involved in the process?
Tom Canfield: When the merge/purge is used as a tool, there’s a lot that can be gotten out of it. The first decision you need to make going in, is how you are going to set it up because that can dramatically change the results you get out of it. For example, do you rank your lists as far as where the duplicates lie, or do you assign [dupes] randomly?
If you rank them, you give each list a priority. So the top priority list gets any dupes between that list and any other list. … The lowest priority list gets no dupes at all. In doing that, since in general multibuyers are the best names in your mailing because they appear on multiple lists simultaneously, you are artificially increasing the response and pay rate on the top-ranked list and artificially decreasing it on the bottom. The lists in the middle probably end up about where they would have, anyway. The advantage of doing it that way from a cost standpoint, is that you can give lowest priority to the lists where you have the best net-name arrangements and highest priority to the lists where you have no net arrangement. … This will allow you, to some extent, to adjust where you come out of the merge volume-wise, which can adjust your billing.
The downside is that you can end up taking a list that would have been acceptable in the mailing, and pushing it too far down, giving it no multis. The list might actually be contributing to your mailing, [but] you’ve artificially set it up in such a way that the list doesn’t work anymore, and you drop it and stop mailing it. So there’s a danger to doing it that way, as well.
TG: Is there a way to control for that danger?
TC: The better way to control for it is to say that you’re going to randomly assign for your duplicates. So if you randomly assign them, then any list gets a percentage of the duplicates associated with that list. So a list that matches up against a lot of other lists will get more multibuyers than a list that comes in and has all unique names. The advantage of that, from a results standpoint, is that you haven’t skewed any of the lists and have given them all a fair chance in the merge.
TG: Since you work in such tight vertical markets, what are some of the list challenges you face, and how do you overcome them?
TC: One of the biggest challenges, with any list or title, is finding more names that are appropriate to the title you’re trying to mail. In the vertical markets, especially very tight ones, like aviation for example, there is a known, finite number of pilots out there—and the pilot population is not increasing, which makes it very hard to increase the size of the titles. The best thing we can do is try to strike up deals with as many other players in the same space. So whether they are directly competitive or whether they are not competitive but market products to the same audience, we try to get in with other publishers or other people in the aviation space or the health space and do co-branded deals. For instance, in our aviation area, there are a number of different catalogs out there that offer training videos, DVDs and other products. We often take a product from them and use it as a renewal premium on our publications, which gives them exposure to our readers and gives us a product that has a high perceived value—and that will be greatly received by our audience and encourage them to renew.
TG: What are some of best practices that you have learned over the years that you think other mailers would benefit from?
TC: Knowing your P&L inside and out is critical. In a number of markets—certainly in the publishing and continuity markets, which is where I have most of my experience—almost all mailers lose money on acquiring a new customer. They spend more on marketing than they are going to get back on revenue from that consumer’s first transaction. Lifetime value is a word that is often thrown around and is hard to quantify, but knowing what additional sales you are likely to get out of a consumer is critical so you know how deep a hole you can dig to acquire them.
This interview initially appeared in the January 2006 issue of Inside Direct Mail, a sister publication of Target Marketing; Visit www.insidedirectmail.com for more information.