Why a List Broker Can Be...A Mailer's Best Friend (1,139 words)
Mailing a campaign without doing sufficient list research is comparable to flushing money down the drain—no matter how good your product, offer or creative is.
List selection is a highly skilled process based on experience—in a given market and with a particular list. And in this process, a broker can play an important role in a mailer's marketing strategy.
Following are some of the numerous ways list brokers can contribute to the success of your marketing efforts.
- Brokers bring to the table their experience with other mailers. "Because brokers often specialize in specific markets, they know how other mailers have done when testing the same lists," says Maria Youth, director, catalog, Lenox Collections, a PA-based gift mailer. And while brokers won't share confidential specifics, they can speak in generalities, so you can capitalize on the experience of other mailers.
A broker can recommend new types of lists to test that have proven successful for similar mailers. According to Youth, a broker may suggest a cataloger that traditionally rents only mail-order buyer files test a subscription list that has worked for similar types of mailers.
- Brokers are your windows to the rest of the world. Aside from list performance, brokers are privy to the experiences and challenges (e.g., U.S. Postal Service slowdowns or revenue drop-offs) of other mailers, says direct marketing consultant Mary Ann Kleinfelter of Marketing Solutions Today.
Kleinfelter, who has worked for firms such as Delta Education, Daytimers and the Drawing Board, says this relay of information is important, because "many mailers can become isolated and need to be more aware of the news from the outside world."
- A good broker will do more than simply send the data cards of recommended lists. Brokers should be prepared to roll up their sleeves and do the research for you. The number of available lists is overwhelming, and new lists come onto the market every day. This is when your broker can be one of your most valuable assets.
At Lenox, for example, Youth asks her brokers to include with each list recommendation, the selects and recommended circulation she should test as well as the broker's rationale for testing the list. Data and usage cards are sent as back up.
"We've found a seasonality factor to some of the packages we use, and the package used drives the list mix," notes Joanne DelGiorno, national director, direct response marketing, American Diabetes Assocation. After reviewing its results by month for the package mix to be used for the current mailing, her brokers review the average response for the time frame selected, as well as the list's trend.
Armed with this information, the association's brokers use the historical averages of response rate and gift amount to predict the current mailing, adds DelGiorno.
"They present to us a very thorough forecast model that details all the controllable factors of the upcoming mailing," she says. This enables the mailer to review all viable options and to combine the best lists and volumes to meet its goal.
"We'll know what that particular list plan should provide as far as response rate, number of donors, average gift, gross income, costs, net income and cost-per-dollar-raised," she adds.
- Your broker can advise you as to the best times to rent a particular list. List brokers know when and how the lists you rent are maintained. For example, a list may be cleaned only four times a year. It obviously will be most accurate following each of those cleanings.
Says Kleinfelter, "This is a particularly big deal as postal rates continue to rise and mailers want to improve customer satisfaction by not mailing poorly addressed mail."
- Brokers can help you improve list performance. Youth says she goes over internal benchmarks and parameters with her brokers. Then, they look at Lenox's list history to identify clear winners it can continue to mail. But it's the broker's input on how to improve the performance of lists pulling marginal response that's the most valuable.
For example, Youth says a broker may recommend she alter her selects on a list to improve response or retest a list that has been newly updated.
- To find new sources of names, a broker will dig into lists in areas the mailer has not traditionally tried. "With careful selections, you can sometimes find another list that will work," says Rob Carter, vice president of marketing, Soundview Executive Book Summaries.
He adds that it helps "if the broker can negotiate a free or reduced test price."
A broker also may find new ways to select within lists that the mailer already is using. "A magazine or newsletter may also have some product buyers, or recent expires might work," Carter notes.
Because brokers are in touch with list owners, they also can alert you to a change in the makeup of a list. A change in the editorial, marketing strategy or offer from which a list is sourced will impact response.
"Sometimes you need to go back to lists that haven't worked or stopped working in the past," says Carter. "Things change, and an old list may now work."
- A broker can help you find more qualified prospects. Says Kleinfelter: "I've had a list broker who actually helped me build a private database of prospecting names; this was a big project.
"But even if you don't prospect that much," she continues, "brokers can help you find public databases that can save you big money. Once again, they'll know how these databases are built and maintained, saving you costly trial and error."
- A broker will perform back-end analysis. He or she will review your list-usage history, determine what's been working and try the next step, explains Youth. She says her brokers, who are aware of Lenox's list successes, will discern what other lists have been working for gift mailers.
- Brokers can help negotiate prices. Because the broker is a knowledgeable third party, he or she can take the "personal" element out of negotiation, says Kleinfelter. Your broker will know when to ask for test prices, waived selection fees or net-name arrangements.
- Brokers can help you realize the potential of a new market. When you're considering a foray into a new market, a broker can provide you with an estimate of its total universe count, points out Kleinfelter. "They can also use this type of count to help you assess your market share in an existing market," she adds.
A broker's ability to make recommendations and improve list performance is contingent on the information you provide. "We've found that keeping close communication and an open working relationship has been the key to our success in a brokerage relationship," says DelGiorno.
Only by sharing your mailing results with your broker, can you capitalize on his or her experience.