Working with List Brokers: Marketers Share their Secrets
Rodgers and Hammerstein. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt. Peanut butter and jelly.
I've listed just three examples of instances where two are often better than one at accomplishing great work. (Don't underestimate the value of peanut butter and jelly; over the years, it's remained a staple of both childrens' and adults' brown-bag lunches!)
And I have a fourth example to add to the bunch: Direct marketers and list brokers. Product managers, circulation directors and direct mail coordinators will agree that their relationship with their list broker(s) is one of the most important partnerships in the success of their campaigns.
After all, every marketer who wants to stay in business has to find new customers. To do that, you have to find names to mail, phone and e-mail.
Some lists are more obvious than others as potential fits with your product, but oftentimes it can be tricky to judge true affinity. Once you've burned through your core lists, it takes an expert to find marginal sources that can perform to your needs.
To explore the relationship between list broker and direct marketer, I interviewed Stephanie Meltzer, marketing manager for Time Inc.'s Money, Fortune and Business 2.0 magazines, and Rita Shankewitz, director of marketing at Boardroom Inc., a publisher of newsletters and books. They shared their list research best practices and the ways in which list brokers help them grow their business.
What the List Reco Should Include
When brokers submit their recommendations (commonly called recos) for lists they think their clients should test, the type of detail expected differs from marketer to marketer. But, most marketers want the same basics covered.
For example, while Meltzer asks her list brokers for information in an Excel spreadsheet and Shankewitz gets hers in the form of a standardized worksheet given to Boardroom's three list brokers, both like to see the following common list details:
* UniverseThis tells whether the size of the list will allow them to not only roll out but to mail cross-sell offers. If it's not large enough, says Shankewitz, "there's no point in testing."
* SourceDirect mail is the primary source of business for both publishers, so they like to see that the file is
direct-mail sold; Meltzer specifically likes to see if the names were direct-to-publisher, meaning the publisher used no agent to bring in the new business.
* OwnerNot only can you look for affinity in the list owner's products and promotional techniques, but you can evaluate its reputation in the industry and possibly its business practices. Is this a company with which you want to do business?
* Update ScheduleHow recently was the file updated, and on what frequency does it get cleaned and refreshed. You want to rent the file when it's most current.
* CostPrice is not the main determinant in whether the list will be evaluated, but it does factor into the test decision. If a list looks perfect for your offer but is too expensive, it might be worth approaching the list manager/ owner to negotiate a different price.
Shankewitz points out that your broker should list any tier pricing available to noncompetitive mailers.
* SelectsTwo components comprise this criteria: availability and profile. Not only do marketers want to know which selects (hotlines, gender, income, state, etc.) are available to them for whittling out the portion of the list that fits their needs, but what type of profile is created by those selects.
Meltzer tells her brokers which key attributes make up the typical subscriber on each of her lists, so they know to narrow down their recos accordingly. For example, the majority of her customers are male, so a list that's predominantly female won't work. The same is true for Shankewitz.
Meltzer adds that data cards don't usually list all the selects an owner offers, so she asks her brokers to do a little more sleuthing to find out the other options.
* UsageAnother good measure of affinity is whether your competitors tested and continued mailing to the list. "As a book and newsletter publisher," says Shankewitz, "we're looking for companies that promote the same way as us and that rented these files before."
A variation on this criteria is keeping an eye out for list recos for companies who rented your housefile in the past. Not only does it suggest synergy, but the company might be open to an exchangewhich can be more attractive to both parties than paying out cash for list rentals.
Yet another spin on usage is your internal list history. Has another product group successfully mailed any of the recos? If the answer is yes, that's a good indicator the files might perform similarly for your other products.
* Mail SamplesBy viewing the promotion(s) that built the list, Shankewitz can compare the creative and offer strategy to how Boardroom promotes. If possible, she also likes to get a product sample to give to the product manager for evaluation.
* Reason for InclusionBecause there are always intangible reasons why a list broker has a feel for a particular list, it's best to get him or her to write a short blurb about why the list was recommended.
Boardroom also requires its three list brokers to rank the list recos on a scale of 5 to 1, with five being the highest score. Shankewitz says Boardroom typically only tests fives and fours, but the occasional three makes the cut because the list broker staged a good case for the list.
This is also a good place for the broker to share extra details about the file. "Sometimes a broker can tell you something about the file that's not on the data card," says Meltzer, "so don't discourage him or her from adding extra details that you didn't ask for."
This is a tremendous amount of information to plow through, which is why both Meltzer and Shankewitz say it's best to get list recos sorted by category to help you more easily compare lists, and track the categories that perform best for your products and offers. The categories can be specific to each marketer; Meltzer likes to know which list recos are for readers vs. shoppers, etc. For Boardroom's needs, Shankewitz might see broader categories, such as health, investment, travel, etc.
Just as it's important to tell your brokers what you want to see, it's equally helpful to tell them what kinds of attributes don't work for your products. For example, Shankewitz has found that non-publishing names don't tend to work for Boardroom, and neither do lists created by sweepstakes offers. "It's important to tell your brokers this, so they don't waste time finding lists you won't mail," she explains.
However, with a good fit on all its other criteria, and a strong recommendation from the list broker, Shankewitz notes that a marginal list might have a chance. If the list opens up a new category for Boardroom, she says, that's a major breakthrough in list work and direct mail.
Refining the Process
So your brokers know what you expect in a list reco. Great! But that's only part of the equation that leads to successful list testing.
The other important factor is sharing with brokers the results of list tests and reasons for not mailing particular recos.
Meltzer, as well as other marketing managers at Time Inc., meets with her brokers quarterly to review the results of tests from the prior quarter and of continuations to other files mailed regularly. They also review the list recos in person, which gives everyone a chance to discuss the reasons why a new list might be a good gamble or why it doesn't fit with the marketer's goals for the next three, six or even 12 months.
Beyond finding new lists to mail, list brokers can help you analyze your list plan to help you identify files that are flagging and need to be given a rest, and maximize your investment in lists that could hold up to heavier rotation.
The brokers' expertise is especially valuable, says Meltzer, "when we've exhausted the possibilities with straight selects. We then have to data mine through large databases to get what we need."
Brokers are continually working hard to scout out different lists that fit their clients' needs, Shankewitz explains, so they need the marketer's feedback to make sure they are chasing the right end goal.
At Boardroom, managers send their list brokers a complete list history before asking for recos; without most of the gritty details, it's hard for list brokers to know where the marginal breaks come in, says Shankewitz.
In many instances, the brokers are helping plan for the next campaigns before Boardroom gets its test results back, she adds, so frequent communication is critical to aiding list brokers' efforts.
Meltzer agrees, noting that she is on the phone with her brokers almost daily when she's filling out her list plan. The contact gives her many opportunities to ask questions and refine her plan until she's satisfied she's mailing the best she can for the quarter.
What Research the Marketer Does
If you've hired list brokers to do the heavy lifting, it doesn't make sense to spend your time duplicating their work. At the same time, you can be your list brokers' best ally.
For example, Meltzer compiles a list of test ideas for her brokers based on the direct mail, catalogs and space advertisements she sees in her day-to-day activities. While it's possible that her list brokers might have already researched some of these lists and rejected them for not meeting the criteria, a few list ideas might turn out to be winners.
Another benefit for Meltzer is working at a company with many other products that often appeal to the same kind of end user. She points out that she can go to the other marketing managers at Time Inc. for ideas, and even plug into the company's list planning system to see what the other publications are doing. Since her list brokers work for the other magazines, too, the knowledge is leveraged across all products.
One final reason why working at a large company is grand: Meltzer has access to a stockpile of direct mail samples sent to Time Inc.'s internal list department for clearance to mail a Time Inc. magazine list. It's a lot easier to get your hands on various samples when you don't have to hound a list manager for them.
(If you don't have such a sample file of your own, consider the Who's Mailing What! Archive. With more than 120,000 mailings that date back to the 1980s, it's likely to have what you need. Visit www.whosmailingwhat.com, or call Paul Bobnak at (215) 238-5225.)
Other Ways Brokers Can Help Your Business
When you consider the in-depth knowledge of your product, mail history and overall goals that a list broker holds, it's easy to recognize the value this person brings to the table.
Beyond assistance with your list plan, brokers are in a good position to help youexcuse the pun"broker" partnerships with companies that may not rent their lists.
For example, Meltzer has worked with her brokers to set up meetings with companies to establish co-branding programs. While she's found it's better to mail an offer straight to the partnering company's customers, the business oftentimes is not comfortable with renting its lists. If the names demonstrate core affinity, the ability to get to these names via a co-branded effort is better than walking away from the deal.
Finally, Shankewitz points out that Boardroom's brokers can be useful in product development strategies, because "they know our niche and company so well."