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LOOK TO THE BASICS TO TURN A MARGINAL YEAR INTO A SUCCESS
By Heather Maylander
It is that time of year when everyone is forecasting, predicting and projecting that all important fourth quarter sales number. How much will 2001 holiday sales be up over 2000 sales—8 percent, 5 percent, 2 percent? The naysayers will start to question whether they will even be up at all. What market segments will be hot? What will be the must-have cool gift that will headline every morning talk show?
Direct marketers, too, are in the middle of the fray, depending on fall and holiday mail campaigns to not just deliver, but to deliver "big." With many mailers having cut back their spring mail plans 10 percent to 20 percent (year-to-date) and mail plans for the fall generally flat compared to last year, the challenge to successfully meet lofty 2001 year-end goals or show any increase over prior years could seem a daunting task.
Couple the pressure to perform profitably and deliver strong year-end results with decreased resources and increased postage costs, and many direct marketers could be feeling beaten before they even drop their first holiday campaign. But, what this really means for marketers is having to generate more with less and thinking outside the box—way outside the box.
Cross-Market Proven Techniques
Direct marketers could perceive that out-of-the-box means doing something new. Doing something new requires testing and testing means risk. The tests might not work, and besides, would it be prudent to increase test quantities at a time when tried-and-true techniques are so important? The bottom line is that results and out-of-the-box thinking can deliver results. In this case, brokers and mailers have to take proven and successful direct marketing techniques from one market (i.e., out of the box) and apply them to other markets.
For example, one segment that traditionally looks to the fourth quarter for significant results is fund raising. Holiday time is a huge season for donors. Traditionally, fund-raisers look to mail other fund-raising lists. As a result, donors are continuously solicited for contributions to multiple non-profits, their average gift declines, and response softens. To find fresh sources of names, fund-raisers need to venture into the consumer marketplace. For instance, fund-raisers can target affinities within a publisher's database that match their desired demographics. Or, a fund-raiser can look for new list opportunities with catalogs that have licensed and overlaid donor data onto their customer files thus creating a new select of buyers who donate to causes.
For the most part, retailers are not able to access other retailers' lists because of the competitive nature of the offer. An alternative to renting another retailer's list is to look to other list categories, such as publishing with credit overlay information that's selectable.
These files are a perfect target for a retailer with its own credit acquisition program. Compiled files with a variety of demographic and psychographic selects, i.e. foreign car owners of Hummers, Lexus, Porsche and BMW, also can work for retailers. Another possible list to test: new homeowners with a minimum home value and high net worth provides a great retail prospect file.
Publishers traditionally have had limited response targeting catalog and donor files. Some publishing mailers have successfully used catalog and donor lists by selecting a reader interest overlay of consumers who have an interest in books, newsletters and magazines. Also, inquirers of catalog files who peruse catalogs like a reader, are an interesting and inexpensive prospect source.
Catalogers try it all and are frequently only successful targeting other mail-order buyers. But, to the cataloger, I say, don't despair; there are some great opportunities to explore. ZIP modeling has helped make marginal lists productive. Additionally, optimization of publishing lists has become a good source of targeted prospects. And, if a catalog has not recently targeted cooperative mail-order databases for reactivation, now is the time to do it. Look beyond the traditional catalog category to other categories, such as fund-raisers, museums and environmental causes that market by selling merchandise from a catalog. These "other category" lists make great traditional catalog prospects. And, never pass up the opportunity to retest. Z-24 has become much stronger with new participants and is definitely worth reviewing! Last, don't overlook the validity of targeting Internet buyers at postal address, not only on files that are Internet-based (such as Red Envelope), but from files of traditional direct marketers like J.Jill, Boston Proper, Norm Thompson and Ross-Simons, who are all selling online and collecting postal addresses. This new online channel can provide wonderful new opportunities for universe expansion.
Out-of-the-Box Thinking Works
To be successful during the upcoming fall and holiday campaign season, marketers will need to look beyond the traditional and find new and exciting ways to identify and target prospects. Not all the techniques and tips suggested are applicable to all mailers, but they are meant to spur new thinking. Just last year who would have thought a high-end merchandise cataloger would successfully use a new homeowner/new mover compiled list and get an AOS (average order size) of $457?
To do more with less, direct marketers have to find new ways to be more efficient and effective. Just expecting the same lists to generate a higher response can be a greater risk than taking solid direct marketing techniques and applying them to new, less traditional, prospects. Testing not only uncovers new successful opportunities, but the success of one test often opens up the creative juices for another and before you know it, that old box has burst its metal edges!
Heather Maylander is senior vice president, American List Counsel, Princeton, NJ, a full service data marketing company offering brokerage, management and list products. She can be reached at (609)580-2834 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.