Evaluating List Recommendations
Edited by Hallie Mummert
In 1994, Brian Kurtz of publishing company Boardroom Inc. shared with former Target Marketing editor Mindy Drucker a worksheet he developed to help the company's product managers and list brokers evaluate lists to test. Ten years later, the worksheet remains an invaluable tool in measuring the potential of a list.
The secret of the worksheet's success is that it forces those involved with list selection to inspect every nook and cranny of a recommended list—a process that tends to weed out files that look good on the surface, but are likely to bomb in the test process. At the very least, it helps marketers prioritize where to spend their list test dollars for the best possible return.
The following is an abbreviated version of Drucker's outline of the worksheet's 14 sections.
1. List Manager and Owner: Who are the list's manager and owner? If you aren't familiar with a list at all, knowing it is managed by a reputable manager might be a factor in its favor. Knowing the owner also can tell you the promotional techniques used to generate the names in the file.
2. Selects: Ask list brokers to recommend, in priority order, which two selects should be tested and their total estimated annual universes. You want specifics and a ranking to help guide you to the part of the list that will work best for your offer. Knowing the total estimated annual universe tells you the rollout potential of a list.
3. Pricing: You want to find out if tier pricing is available and whether select charges apply. For lists that are outside your core category, it's often necessary to negotiate a tier price with the select charges waived to keep the rate at the base fee.
4. Source: A simple listing of media used to collect names is not enough detail on which to base a test decision. You want a breakdown of media used, and specifics on what kinds of names were generated. Were they generated through agents, statement stuffers, stampsheets, etc.?
5. Recency, Frequency Update: How often is the list updated, and what does update mean to this list owner? Decay can affect the composition of a list greatly.
6. Seasonality: Ask for details on the list owner's promotional schedule. This information is key to getting the freshest hotline names as they become available, since you'll know when the marketer prospects during the year.
7. Samples: This may be the most crucial factor—especially for a new list or when the list owner sells multiple products. By reviewing the most recent mail piece used to build the list, you can get a feel for the techniques that appeal to this audience. Also, you can look for affinities between your promotional efforts and the list owner's.
Another area to zero in on is the product mix. If you notice a rotation in the products offered, that signals a change in the list's composition.
9. House Usage: Lists that have performed well for one of your products are natural test ideas for the rest of the line. Keep detailed results on which lists your company has tested, for which products and with what kind of results.
10. Outside Usage on House Lists: Another clue to possible list affinity is the list owner having rented one of your own house lists. It's not enough on which to base a test decision, but it's a start.
11. Outside Usage: While data cards sometimes offer names of other marketers who have tested a list, the crucial information is knowing who continued to rollout. Your broker might be able to provide this insight, but Kurtz recommends doing this research yourself. To ease concerns, simply ask these companies to rate the list on a scale of one to 10.
12. Comments/Notes: Boardroom insists brokers write something here, so product managers can find out what made them recommend the list in the first place.
13. Final Recommendation: Both product managers and brokers are asked to share their input on what makes the list a good test option. Boardroom asks brokers to qualify how strongly they feel about each list, on a scale of one to five—one being just a "gut feeling" and five being "you'd be crazy not to test it."
14. Reason Not Approved: Lists that Boardroom rejected get filed for future evaluation. Product managers try to share the reasons for rejection with list brokers so they can better understand their client's needs and possibly take another stab at convincing Boardroom of the list's merits.