Are list professionals too particular or not particular enough?

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As list professionals we are charged with finding the most innovative and creative ways to segment and target new and potential customers for our clients. It often can be difficult to accomplish this goal as many marketers are reluctant to spend too much budget on files that have not already proven themselves. And for those files that the marketer is willing to test it often focuses on what would appear to be replicas of the proven winners it is already using.

This is at the core of the issue in today's list selection environment. Are marketers relying too much on the same segments of names and, in other cases, are marketers too liberal with how they are selecting names?

A great example of going to the well one too many times in terms of list segmentation is the direct-to-publisher environment. Consumer magazine circulators rely almost exclusively on selecting DTP segments off of files they plan on mailing.

This practice has proven to be effective as those subscribers who have paid and subscribed directly with a magazine publisher are terrific candidates to repeat that action with a second magazine offering from a different publisher.

The issue becomes when that magazine offer turns into a 10th or 11th offer in just a 30-day period. DTP names are shrinking due to the reliance that publishers have on subscription agents and other bulk subscription practices. This leaves marketers with very few new DTP names to mail to and in turn creates a situation where many magazine publishers are mailing to the same segments of names far too many times.

As list professionals it is our role to recommend new alternatives, segments and ideas to help create new vehicles for subscription growth for the long term.

Testing is by no means a foreign concept to the list industry. Asking for budget for test ideas that will fail more often then they will succeed is the difficult part. This however is how the list professional can play the vital role that is so critically needed.

The other side of this issue is when the source mix of the names that a marketer has been relying on changes unknowingly.

A prime example of this can be seen in both the business-to-business and technology publishing categories.

As business-to-business publishers try to cut costs, they have become increasingly enamored with the use of digital editions as a means of subscription fulfillment. This quite simply means that the print product is replaced with a digital or electronic version of the same content.

Obviously this is a major cost savings for the publisher as the fixed costs related to publishing a traditional magazine disappear. These digital editions are noted within the various audit statements and are then factored into the overall subscription numbers for the publications.

Unlike in the consumer category, business marketers focus more on who the person is rather than how the name was acquired. A marketer may be more interested in the purchase authority an individual has rather than if that person has subscribed directly with the publisher or through some other means.

The issue that is caused by the growth of digital editions is the publisher's cutback or elimination of direct mail prospecting to drive subscriptions. Because BTB and technology publishers have so drastically cutback on using direct mail as a means of prospecting, the quality of the name that is being added to these subscription files has also dramatically been reduced.

Of course, this all leads to performance issues for marketers who are still using these same magazine files for a direct mail offer.

This is where the list professional plays a key role. Understanding how the source mix has changed and what effect that will have on the marketer's campaign performance is essential.

Just as the list industry consistently changes and embraces technology, so too do the industries that we are surrounded by. These outside industry changes have direct impact on our ability to advise our clients on the best course of action to take. The list professional's role is not just as a facilitator but also as a strategic advisor in understanding these changing list trends.

Jay Schwedelson is corporate vice president of Worldata, Boca Raton, FL. Reach him at jay@worldata.com.

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