Handle Lists Properly Before You Mail

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Everything appears in place for your upcoming catalog. The merchandise has been chosen, an appealing design is ready, photography selected, paper stock and press run decisions are made.


But even the world's most attractive catalog won't produce the desired sales if it doesn't arrive in the right person's mailbox at the right time. That's why the best catalog marketers strategically manage their databases and mailing activities.


Database management involves mining your house file and prospect lists - lists that are purchased.


A house file includes active and archived customer names. Each classification should be identified and managed by scoring the names using at least three variables: recency, frequency and monetary value. Each time your house file is updated, your customers' scores or values will change depending on their amount of activity. It is important that you recognize the unique value of each customer and market to them based on that value. Not all customers are the same.


For active customers, use a combination of U.S. Postal Service and proprietary list hygiene products to ensure that addresses are up-to-date, apartment numbers are included and each address contains a ZIP+four code for accurate handling. With nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population moving yearly, it doesn't take long for a house file to get out of date.


Also, investigate proprietary address change services. Most movers do not notify the USPS. Instead, they directly contact their insurance companies, banks, credit card companies, etc. Most of the large service bureaus maintain a compiled source of these "outside" moves and will pass your house file against it, after National Change of Address. You should expect match rates of up to 50 percent of your NCOA match rate.


Review active customer lists for how many times these customers received your catalog or other promotions and the response rate. A hot list of customers who have bought from your catalog in the past 30 days should be included in your next mailing so they can be encouraged to buy again.


Archived customers are those who typically haven't made a purchase in at least 18 months. List hygiene is necessary to ensure these addresses are current. If a ZIP+four code is unavailable for an archived customer, it might be best to eliminate the name because the address may no longer be accurate.


An archived customer who hasn't bought in 24 months should be treated as a prospect. One way to reactivate this individual is to flag the address and use a personalized message on the catalog to welcome him or her back with a special offer.


Prospect lists require the same level of management.


By negotiating a net name arrangement with a list broker, you pay only for the names you use. The net name arrangement is particularly useful if you are acquiring lists from a family of catalogs. In this case, the family lists should be treated as one single list.


It's imperative that the purchased lists are clean. That means again using USPS and proprietary hygiene products as with your house lists. Also, take advantage of every suppression file possible. Service bureaus typically provide an array of suppression lists to maximize your mail efficiencies. These are designed to eliminate individuals who are deceased, in prison or simply don't fit your desired age, location, family size, demographic, etc.


When possible, key code as many sectors of your mailing as possible to ensure that the above changes are providing you a positive return on investment. However, ensure the segments are significant enough in size to provide a true reading.


As you plan your mailing, consider the window in which you want the catalog to arrive:


· Is it within three days, five days or a week of your in-home target delivery date?


· Is fulfillment an issue?


· Is the offer for a one-day sale?


· When do you want to start the phone operators?


These are critical factors in considering the most desirable in-home window. You'll greatly improve your chance of accurately reaching these time windows if you know the required dates in advance for drop shipment to USPS bulk mail centers and sectional center facilities. Keeping your finger on the pulse of the postal system is a must if you want your catalog to arrive on time and in a cost-effective manner.


If there are multiple versions of your catalog, you may want to review presorting and binding the versions together. This reduces postage cost and the amount of handling within the USPS.


Trucking the catalogs to a USPS processing facility near where they will be delivered also reduces postal costs and the amount of handling. By doing this, your catalog will make the in-home target date with less potential for damage in transit.


Postal cost savings also can be achieved by co-mailing your catalog with another cataloger. The larger mail volume achieved by two or more catalogs means a greater number of pieces qualify for Enhanced Carrier Route, the best postage discount.


Don't forget to track your catalog. Using more than one tracking mechanism will help you learn when your catalog is delivered so you can adjust in the future to hit your target dates better. If your catalog is tied to a retail outlet, tracking helps you predict increased store traffic. Common tracking mechanisms include USPS Advance Tracking for ECR, Confirm/Planet Codes and seed names.


USPS Advance Tracking for ECR indicates when the carriers deliver your catalog. Confirm/Planet Codes lets you track your catalog through USPS processing centers. Inserting seed names into your mailing list makes it possible to learn exactly when your catalog arrives in-home.


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