List Buying Guide: The Finer Points of List Research
Know thy product. Know thy customer. These are the first steps any researcher worth his or her salt needs to take before sourcing lists for rental and exchange. Live the product, breathe the product and learn about the product is truly the only way to get the list research process started. Once you have become "one" with the product, you are ready to proceed to the next steps. Depending on how much time you have before your client wants to get into the mail, you have a few options available to offer to it: a complete universe analysis, a reverse usage report or a good old-fashioned list test recommendation based on your list research.
Complete Universe Analysis
A complete universe analysis involves researching every possible list on the market that might be remotely related to your client's offer. This includes both directly competitive offers in addition to compiled lists. Included in the universe analysis are the list name, the total universe, pricing, plus a full set of demographics-average age, average income, percent of male/female, average unit of sale, update schedule and a sample mail piece. A universe analysis is an excellent tool to have on hand. It's usually divided into tiers:
- tier one being the most directly related lists;
- tier two being closely related lists; and
- tiers three or four being somewhat related lists.
Having a sample mail piece on hand can be extremely helpful. Samples also show the product offerings. If possible, you may want to omit a product from your select when placing a list order. Without the benefit of this valuable list research tool, your client could have been mailing to the wrong audience.
Reverse Usage Report
Now, onto an overlooked but important research tool, the reverse usage report. This report shows the client who is using its competitors' lists. For example, if a pet mailer (I am going to stick with the pet theme throughout this article) wanted to know which firms are using its top five competitors' files, a reverse usage report would tell it. Unlike regular usage, this report shows cross usage between the files. I liken this report to a rousing game of gossip. Sort of like, "Did you hear that so and so is using such and such list?" However, having said that, more mailers have decided not to play this game, and it's becoming more difficult to prepare reverse usage reports. This is a challenge that brokers strive to overcome.
List Test Recommendations
List test recommendations profile highly targeted lists along with a recommended select, the select universe, base rate, select pricing, demographics, update schedule, comments(the broker's chance to sell the list to the mailer) and usage. These recommendations usually include between five to 10 new test ideas. When I first started in list brokerage, brokers worked with printed data cards and you had to stand in line to use the fax machine, but I digress ... All I did was call for counts, updated data cards and usage. This process helped me to learn how to really research lists and pick lists based on roll-out potential, usage (if other like mailers were using the list) and update schedules. Note: If a list only updates on an annual basis, it is best to mail the list right after the update rather than in mid year.
List research can't be hurried. It takes time to be done properly. Skimping on steps will only catch up with you later on. Usually when you are presenting in front of your client and several other important members of the marketing department will the missing step become obvious to all.
When agreeing to take on the project, try to make sure everyone is on the same page as to how long it will take and when the project will be delivered. Managing expectations is a component of the list research process that is often overlooked and can be just as important as the project itself. List research is not a lost art. Like many works of art, it just take time.
Michele Volpe is vice president of sales and marketing at MediaSource Solutions, a list management, compilation and data services firm in Plantation, Fla. She can be reached at (954) 788-0213.