Important List Facts the Data Card Won't Tell YouData cards are the standard format for communicating list information to potential users, but they don't tell the whole story. Here are some critical questions you should ask before renting any list -- questions that probably aren't answered on the data card:
How are the names generated? Telemarketing-generated subscribers become conditioned not to respond to direct mail. Why fill out a lengthy qualification card when someone will take the information from you in a quick conversation over the phone? Experience shows that telemarketing-generated subscriber lists respond at a much lower rate to direct mail than direct mail-generated subscribers.
Many hi-tech publishers are turning to the Internet instead of telemarketing or direct mail to acquire and requalify subscribers. And many hi-tech catalogers are now generating as many orders on their Web sites as they are with their paper catalogs. Whether Internet-generated subscribers, inquirers and buyers will continue to be mail-responsive remains to be seen. But look for more of these names, especially on hi-tech subscriber and customer lists.
What's this buyer really interested in? The two-paragraph description on the data card doesn't really get you inside the mind of the buyer. You need to go deeper. If it's a catalog list, for instance, get a copy of the catalog and look through the merchandise. Considering a test of an Internet list? Visit and spend time on the Web site from which the names were generated. And for subscriber lists, study the media kit and flip through several issues of the magazine.
What mailers have tested and then continued on the file? Ask for a list of tests and continuations. What percentage of tests result in a continuation? Are there any mailers that are similar in product and price range to your own? This is a good indication that your own offer has a chance to be profitable with this list.
How clean is the list? Many data cards give you the date the file was last updated. What's more important is the percentage of the file that has been updated within the past 3, 6, 9, and 12 months -- often referred to as the hotline names. Why is this so important? Remember the RFM (recency, frequency, monetary) formula: The more recently a customer has bought, the more likely they are to buy again. So don't just assume that the entire file has been updated. Ask.
Is the list owner excluding their best customers from their rental file? Some do. And if they do, then by how much does that change the average unit of sale for those who are left?
If it's a mail-order list, are there any deferred credit buyers on the file? These are people who have ordered on a bill-me basis and not yet paid. Many turn out to be no-pays, so deferred credit buyers can reduce the average unit of sale -- and your response.
Are there any selections that the list owner holds out for their special mailers, but does not offer on the card? For example, a cataloger may offer you selections by type of merchandise purchased or dollar amount that are not on the data card. Also, many publishers are collecting information on the subscriber's preferred address -- whether they prefer to receive mail at home or work. Many business-to-business and consumer mailers have gotten a lift in results by mailing to business prospects at home vs. office addresses, probably because the prospect is overwhelmed at work but has more time when at home.
Finding and testing mailing lists is like Sherlock Holmes solving a mystery. Like Holmes, you need evidence to support your intuition. The more information you have, the less clueless and more successful you'll be.
Stevan Roberts is president of Edith Roman Associates Inc., Pearl River, NY. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.