List Selection Strategies (1,045 words)
An interview with Paul Goldberg
Want to Know How to Pick the Right Lists?
Of all the elements that go into a direct mail effort, the single most important one is the list. Think about it: If you don't reach the right audience, no matter how brilliant your creative or how enticing your offer, the effort is destined to fail.
"Too little thought goes into lists," affirms Paul Goldberg, a veteran direct marketing consultant who has worked in the industry for more than 40 years. Goldberg, whose firm, P-J Promotions specializes in circulation marketing, points out another reason why list selection is so important: It's expensive to mail—and getting more and more costly every day.
Explains Goldberg, "You're not just spending the $90/M to $150/M for names. You also have to add in the costs for printing, paper and postage. If a mailing in test quantities costs $750, then every 5,000-piece test cell costs you $3,750."
Recognizing the importance of finding the absolute best lists to mail, we asked Goldberg to take us step-by-step through the list selection process and share some of the strategies he developed along the way.
Q: What's the starting point for a direct marketer who wants to choose the best lists to mail?
A: Finding a good broker is the first step in the list selection process. Some may argue that there are two ways to go about getting lists: the do-it-yourself way or hiring a broker. Use a broker. And don't think of your broker as a company, but as an individual.
All brokers have access to the same lists; they charge the same prices; their data cards are basically the same. It's the individual brokers' knowledge about which lists will work for you that makes them worth their commissions. You need to find someone who knows the market you're targeting and is willing to do the work of digging up good list recommendations for you.
Q: How do you find a good, knowledgeable
A: You use different brokerage houses for different products. Some brokerage firms have long-standing reputations in certain fields. To find brokers with expertise in more obscure areas, you may have to ask your consultant or other people in the industry whom you trust.
At one brokerage house, I know there's the best broker in the country for the field of art and collectibles; another brokerage firm may have specialists in catalog lists or fund raising, and so on. If one of these people changes companies, I am likely to follow the person.
The most important thing is to choose a brokerage firm based on the people working there and these individuals' expertise. Without that knowledge, anyone can push some buttons on a computer and have it spit out some data cards.
Q: Speaking of computers, what's your take on the push by some in the industry toward an online, centralized repository of list information?
A: A centralized list database that could be accessed by all would be a wonderful tool for brokers and mailers alike. It would be a helpful resource to have at our fingertips.
But my fear is that some brokers might become lazy and rely solely on the computer. You need the human element in this [list selection] process. The computer does not have logic. That's why the human touch is so important.
Q: After you've found a good broker to work with, what's the next step in the list selection process?
A: You'll want to take the data cards the broker has pulled off the computer and divide them into three piles: A, B and C. Put the likely candidates into the A pile, the marginal lists into the B pile and the obvious rejects into the C pile.
It's natural to want to test any lists that come up as a good match for yours in terms of products or demographics. But you also need to ask, "What was the approach they used? Was there an incentive, a premium. Was it a sweeps mailing?"
So you should next ask the broker to get samples of the direct mail control packages for all the data cards in your A and B piles. If the person bought something off a space ad or from TV, get a copy of the ad or TV spot plus the media it ran in and dates and times.
By studying the mailings and the offers, you'll be able to get a better understanding of what made these people respond. Most often, direct mail responders are your best prospects.
Once you've chosen your lists, go back to the list broker and find out who else has used the list successfully. You want to know who tested it and rolled out, as well as those who tested and did not roll out.
Sometimes this information is on the data cards, and sometimes you have to ask.
Q: What else does a mailer need to do to set up a successful list selection strategy?
A: Don't forget about enhancements; so many lists have been made to work through enhancements. Most large list owners have put in a good deal of effort to enhance their lists at a very reasonable cost to you. Your broker can help suggest enhancements to test that may make an otherwise marginal list work for you.
Also, if there's an enhancement you want that's not on the data card, ask; there's a good chance they'll have it.
Q: What is the most important element of the broker-mailer relationship?
A:Two things are important, actually, and they are related. First, open communication is one key to success. Realize that this [broker-mailer] relationship has to be a two-way street in order to work. You have to feed your broker with certain information—about your products, your customer file, your offers and your past campaign results. Then and only then can your broker be well-informed enough to provide you with accurate, helpful list advice.
The second important element is trust. If you feel you can't trust your broker [with this type of information], then find a new broker. I consider brokers to be list consultants. A strong, open broker-mailer relationship is essential to getting good list recommendations.
Paul Goldberg can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.