Brainstorming Can Reveal Good List Sources

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As professional direct marketers, we all know how important the list/database is to the outcome of the success of a program. It's curious then, why often so little time is spent on the front-end searching for good lists. The process does not have to be difficult. However, time spent initially on researching alternative list sources could generate stronger end results.


It is not unusual to incorporate a brainstorming session into the creative process. However, the same benefits of creative brainstorming are applicable for the list development process. Like creative brainstorming, a strategy session to identify unique list sources offers other benefits as well. For example:


• A structured brainstorming session requires agreement on specific project parameters - creating consensus from all those involved, especially the decision makers.


• Brainstorming alternative sources opens the door to new and potentially untapped information about your target audience.


• Ideas generated can be used immediately or filed away to fuel future programs.


• Brainstorming often creates camaraderie among departments that may not otherwise proactively work together. For example, let's look at the utility industry and a recent case study on putting a unique twist on rented data to make a program hugely successful.


Program objective. A large, regulated Midwest-based utility wanted to increase its participants in a "green pricing" program in which customers are asked to pay more for electricity that comes from renewable resources such as wind, sun, biomass and hydro sources.


Define the audience. The challenge is segmenting those customers who would be most likely to participate in this type of energy conservation effort from those who would not. Keep in mind, we are selling an intangible promise because the electricity that the consumers will use from renewable resources will not differ from the electricity they consume at standard price points from traditional sources such as coal, gas, nuclear, etc.


Reference existing (past) customers. After conducting a profile of existing participants within the program, three distinct, marketable segments emerged:


• "Dark Greens," who are most concerned about our environment, and take physical action to conserve our natural resources.


• "Any Greens" prefer to use their wallets and pay to address environmental issues, rather than take any more physical action like recycling;.


• "Mid-Greens," who don't seem to have a preference on how to protect our precious resources. They are more concerned about our environmental future for their children and grandchildren.


Use existing data. A true profile of a "green consumer" varies widely based upon very subjective feelings toward the environment and how to protect it. While classifications of marketing-receptive people helps, it does not go far enough in helping define who the best target audience should be. Thus, we turned to rented data to help further define and test our segments. We found:


• Dark Greens are very particular about the sources for renewable energy, and usually prefer one particular energy source over any other. They typically will not consider a program that uses a combination of sources (which this did), making them a tough sell.


• Any Greens appeared to be good candidates - if motivated by the offer.


• Mid-Greens seemed to be a good test - if we could convince them they were participating for the future of their children and grandchildren.


Traditional sources. After looking at obvious lists like nature groups, environmental magazines and local and regional environmental groups, we discovered that not enough meaningful names existed to meet our goals for the program. Thus, unique, out-of-the-box lists had to be considered.


Brainstorm for the unusual. With that in mind, a brainstorming session revealed that the service territory in which the majority of consumers lived for the utility issued environmental license plates - plates for which they paid a premium to showcase their interest in conservation issues.


Implement and analyze. The license plate data was rented from the state and refined to our target geography. All our strategy, creative and, most importantly, list research, paid off. The program gained 50 percent new membership, going from 8,000 to 12,000 participants, based on the program implemented.


Can you guess which list pulled the best results? The not-so-obvious state-issued environmental license plate list.


Brainstorming tips. A brainstorming session should be well-thought out and structured, yet set up so that ideas flow freely. We create a brainstorming brief that is approved by the client prior to the session. The brief identifies the parameters of the meeting, specific goals to achieve, and ideas we need to compile, as well as an itinerary so that we don't dwell on any one idea too long.


The individual people in your brainstorming group should represent different disciplines to help shake-up the thought process. Our groups often involve experts from our public relations, advertising and marketing departments, as well as authorities from a variety of markets such as healthcare, insurance and technology.


Most importantly, everyone involved in the session is stripped of his or her title. Equality is important and supports the golden rule of brainstorming: No idea is bad.


Grant Johnson is president of Johnson Direct, Brookfield, WI. His e-mail address is grantj@johnsondirect.com.
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