ICOM Readies Spring Packaged-Goods Mailing to Household Database

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ICOM Information & Communications Inc., Toronto, a direct-to-consumer and database marketing solutions provider, is preparing to send its packaged-goods sampling kits to households in its TargetSource database early next month.


The package-fulfillment program, which is called TargetMail, is sent to the consumer households that responded to ICOM's TargetBase survey, the largest direct mail survey responder database in the United States.


TargetBase surveys are sent to 30 million U.S. households twice a year - in the spring and fall. The households are demographically and regionally balanced, and ICOM rents a list of households from Advo, a co-op distribution company, to reach these households.


The spring questionnaire was sent in January - and while final numbers are not in yet, the surveys usually generate a 15 percent to 18 percent response rate that translates to 9 million new households in its database every year. This spring, 4.5 million consumer households are expected to respond to the survey.


Currently, the survey responder database includes 15 million to 18 million households in the United States "of which no data is over 24 months old," said Catherine E. Cronin, vice president of marketing at ICOM. "It is a very large, very accurate, very fresh database that is refreshed every six months."


The database offers packaged goods and pharmaceutical companies - as well as online and direct mail marketers from all sectors like automotive, publishing, financial services, hi-tech and insurance - more than 1,000 behavior and lifestyle selects in addition to access to accurate names and address data.


The surveys contain four pages of questions on consumer buying habits for certain products and demographics. The questions are changed for every mailing, and about 50 percent focus on the pharmaceutical and packaged goods sectors. In general, survey respondents are asked whether they want to receive advertisers' offers and nearly 90 percent say yes.


The TargetBase questionnaires asked consumers how they use specific types of packaged-goods products, including everything from soups to toothpaste to laundry detergent. The questions also asked about more general subjects such as shopping patterns, housing information and demographic information.


Each season, however, the survey includes new questions and this spring was no exception. The questionnaire asked consumers for their e-mail addresses and asked if they would be interested in receiving information and offers via e-mail.


"ICOM has been gathering data about Internet usage and habits for over a year in both our spring and fall mailings and currently has over 1.2 million online buyers on file," said Cronin. "But this is the first year we've asked questions about e-mail addresses."


The survey also asked whether a veteran or a retired military officer was living in a particular household, whether consumers used natural or herbal remedies; and also included a question on ornament collectors.


"We basically asked our clients what kind of questions they would like us to include and what kind of information, and we responded in the best way that we could," said Cronin.


About eight to 10 weeks after households respond to the survey, ICOM begins sending out the TargetMail mailings - which include packages of samples and coupons from sponsoring packaged-goods companies.


Cronin said more than 40 percent of ICOM's clients are now using the TargetMail mailing for sampling, offering households samples of varying package sizes and messages. This number was already doubled from last year's figure.


According to Cronin, one of the reasons the sampling program is so successful this year is because of a production process ICOM instituted last year that enables packaged goods companies in the United States to place multiple product samples of varying size and shape into a single mail piece.


ICOM's Varisert and VariPAQ technology allows co-op envelopes to run through a mail feeder more than once, and samples are placed on, rather than in, the envelope. PAQ enables samples to be individually targeted by reading the name and address on an envelope and selecting the appropriate samples to go in each. Once all samples are attached to an envelope, it's over-wrapped in plastic with the name and address showing through. Its conveyor system allows for variances in sample shape.


ICOM can also use the technology to segment samples based on brand purchase behavior, usage patterns, medical conditions or other household habits.


"Every single person who answers our survey of course purchases different products, and their envelope is geared to their survey responses," said Cronin. "ICOM's proprietary selective insertion technologies enable each household to receive customized packages, thereby allowing no two households to receive the same contents. This can be a very powerful way to get the right sample to the right households."


ICOM has been mailing surveys since 1985. The company began targeting select regions of Canada and went national there in 1988. In 1994, ICOM entered the U.S. market, and in 1997 began the TargetBase program.
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