Databases help refine direct response lists

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Alan Zamchick
Alan Zamchick
Once upon a time, a prospecting database was a compiled list of data brought together from numerous time-consuming compilations of information from a variety of sources. Pioneers gleefully shared their data with publishers, catalogers and other progressive mailers seeking to mail to their finely targeted recipients.

They also added value to their rented lists, offering such luxuries as age, income, marital status and home ownership. And it worked.

However, technology improved. Taking the lead from the new mover participatory databases, warranty-card-driven lifestyle compilations and consumer questionnaires available as far back as the early 1980s, and facing dwindling mail universes, enterprising companies began the difficult task of bringing together former competitors for their mutual benefit.

Today's sophisticated consumer response databases combine the powerful recency, frequency and monetary attributes; consumer lifestyles; trends; and — in rare instances — extremely valuable predictive life change data. Participatory databases now abound, sharing the collective information among their anonymous contributors to the benefit of all that take part. Twenty-five years ago, it would've been unheard of for two competitive catalogers to contribute names to the same database; the same was true for the hundreds that contributed to the Z-24 and Abacus catalog databases. Most agile list managers offer their independent clients some sort of shared revenue database, massing their collective buyer or subscriber files into large appended groupings of responsive, and cost-effective, direct responders.

The complete database offers the user multiple tools to finely target their ideal recipient. For a direct mail offer, it must include direct-mail-sold sensitivity.

If a cataloger expects that a large percentage of orders will be placed by phone or through the Internet, adding those channels to the selection can have a very positive impact on response. It's also important to identify an attribute within the file that closely parallels the type of offer being sent. Product purchase flags can match up to the types of products contained in the offering.

Round it out with demographic information, and you have a winning database product.

As multichannel marketing continues to grow with its associated shifts in customer acquisition, the database tool becomes even more important both for identifying new markets and for continuing to help refine traditional ones. As mailings become more efficient and the Internet more prevalent, the database becomes a necessity, not a luxury.

Alan Zamchick is VP of list management for Media Horizons Management. Reach him at

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