List Companies Eye the Internet As a Delivery Medium

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American List Counsel, Princeton, NJ, plans to offer mailing lists directly to customers this year via the Internet, according to chairman/CEO Donn Rappaport. He said the company plans to offer both postal and e-mail lists, and will attempt to offer response lists in addition to compiled lists.


"We've made a commitment to marketing data online this year," Rappaport said. "We've had a Web site for a while and we provide marketing information online, but we haven't actually sold data online. I think that's going to be big."


He said he expected to unveil the new service, which will have its own brand, by June.


The move follows efforts last year by some of the large aggregators of compiled data to begin offering their products online directly to customers. Experian, Orange, CA, and Acxiom Corp., Conway, AR, both have Web-based vehicles for accessing their databases, and infoUSA, Omaha, NE, at the end of last year announced the creation of Listbazaar.com, on online venue for mailers to obtain compiled lists.


Other marketers of compiled data, including Dunhill International List Co. Inc., Boca Raton, FL, also are gearing up to offer their fare on the Web.


Making postal response lists available via the Web, however, is going to present some difficulties, according to some in the industry.


Michelle Feit, president of e-Post Direct, Pear River, NY, also said she hopes to offer e-mail files directly to customers through the Web this year, but said she has doubts about the feasibility of delivering postal response lists this way.


"On the postal side, I don't think it will ever happen with response lists," she said. "On the e-mail side, you just press a button and that's the delivery. But on the postal side, you actually have to download a file, and that's not easy if you want to download 100,000 names."


Much of the online market for response lists has been for small files of names numbering in the hundreds - all the households that meet certain criteria within a certain ZIP code, for example - rather than the thousands of names that larger mailers typically require.


In addition to the longer download time required for larger mailing lists, other obstacles to offering response lists online include the need for the list owners' approval before a mailing can be sent.


"A list owner has to stop at some point and approve the message," Feit said. "It has to pass through human eyes at some point or another."


With e-mail files offered through the Web, Feit said she envisions that clients will put their messages into a template, which would be routed to the list owner for approval. Then the list owner would flag the database as being approved for the mailing, and e-Post Direct would then handle the transmission. The process also would require a query tool to allow clients to search the site's databases for the files they want to mail to and also would need a system for processing credit card information.


In addition, the site would need to allow mailers to conduct a test transmission to see how the message looks.


But overall, Feit said she expects that most mailers will prefer to have some discussion about the lists they use with people who are familiar with those lists.


"In the direct marketing world, the mailers we're used to working with are very used to the customer service that comes from using a broker," she said. "It's fine for someone who knows what they want, but most people want to talk with someone who's familiar with the file, who can tell them some insight that they're not going to be able to figure out on their own."
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