Get the Best Results From Your Broker

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Direct marketing campaigns are most successful when the creative, the offer and the lists all work together. List brokers help execute hundreds of campaigns for multiple clients, then tabulate the results. So after awhile, on top of our vast experience qualifying and selecting lists for client campaigns, we also develop a sixth sense about what creative works and how an offer is presented best.

The following tips aim to help you improve campaign effectiveness. The more you partner with your broker and take advantage of the broker's experience and insight, the more you'll avoid common missteps and get the best response rates.

Run creative, or at least a creative brief, by your broker before the broker starts your list research. Many marketing managers give us a general description of the ideal customers for their product or service to guide the list research. But once the copy is written, often they have winnowed the offer to appeal to only one or two types of users, not everyone who might be a prospect.

So we can be pretty far along in the order process before we find out what the creative really looks like. And sometimes the lists selected for overall quality and suitability don't match the particular offer. Selecting new lists then takes time and occasionally money for cancellation fees if we've already placed orders.

Tell your broker the budget or quantity of names sought before the broker starts work on the project. For most campaigns, there are good, better and premium list options. It makes sense to start with the best-quality lists and work down as necessary. If we know the scope at the outset, we can give you a real recommendation to meet your goals, not just a list of lists to consider.

Tell your broker what lists you used previously and how they performed. This helps us determine which direction to go. If you don't know, or if the company worked with an agency previously and doesn't have the results history in-house, let us know what your product managers and prospects read. Many of the best-quality lists are derived from subscription lists and Web site registrants.

Call your broker at the start of the year or quarter and let the broker be a true partner in the planning process. With enough notice, we may be able to combine orders for campaigns and win discounts, negotiate online premiums and more.

If you suspect it might be difficult to find prospects for your campaign, let your broker look into it before you make any plans - or promises to your boss. Recently, a client mentioned she had $50,000 for an e-mail campaign to reach software development managers between San Francisco and San Jose.

"That's 100,000 names," I choked in response. "I'd love to handle that big an order for you but we'll be hard-pressed to find that many qualified names in the area ..."

Another time an agency requested an e-mail list of architecture professors. None existed at the time, but I was thrilled to find an association postal list that fit the bill perfectly, if the marketer were open to changing channels.

Don't write your own copy. Hire a professional. Your response rates will double or triple. Most marketers are so close to their product or service that they can't distinguish the steak from the sizzle after awhile. Also, it takes experienced talent to craft a short, pithy, accurate subject line.

If possible, perform creative tests on your house list, then use the winning version for the rental lists. Elements to test include e-mail subject lines, best times to send to postal and e-mail lists and color selection. You're paying for the rental lists, so give them your best shot and do your testing ahead of time.

Give your broker your top search engine marketing keywords. Or if you're not doing search engine marketing, think up all the terms that describe your prospects or the offer. We can plug those words and phrases into our proprietary list research software to find lists that match.

The more people at a company who work with the same list broker or media buyer, the more of an expert that broker will become about your business. At some companies, we have 30 to 40 internal clients across corporate marketing, field marketing, market research and sales. We end up knowing better than anyone else how lists have performed for various offers. We also can head off situations where more than one marketing manager wants to use a file at the same time.

Rent at least two lists per campaign, preferably three at a minimum. If you rent one list and it doesn't perform well, you might think poor list choice is the culprit. Or if it does great, you're thrilled. If you rent two or more lists, you will see some variation in results that will help you make more informed list decisions next time. Also, you're more apt to trust campaign results as a referendum on creative if multiple lists show results within a tight range.

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