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Familiarity breeds contempt. You can never have enough of a good thing.


How do direct marketers reconcile these conflicting messages?


As direct marketers, we know that a millisecond is all we get to grab the attention of the busy consumer. Even with strong brand loyalty, a corporate logo is not enough to get the envelope opened or the e-mail read. Today's consumers can identify credit card solicitations, refinance offers and other consumer items without so much as glancing at an envelope.


So, how do you penetrate market segments and generate desired response without overstaying your welcome, incurring negative feelings or just plain wearing out your message? You do it by developing highly targeted, personalized programs that incorporate customized messaging, offers and graphic elements. This customization is achieved by appending demographic traits onto your current customer files, segmenting them and analyzing the results.


Simply, demographic overlay and analysis enables a direct marketer to understand the key traits of his current customers -- thus developing an "ideal prospect" model. Then the direct marketer acquires prospect lists that match the ideal prospect model. Further, demographic appending, segmentation and analysis will assist in establishing a profile of best customers -- enabling your marketing strategists to focus marketing resources on these elite groups.


Are you wondering how to begin? Well, there's no place like home, so how about your own back yard? Start by taking an extract of your current customer database. There's no need to analyze your entire customer file, a small sampling is enough. This will enable you to discover trends and establish the unique characteristics of each current customer.


Then, it's important to locate a firm that has proven experience providing demographic appending and analysis. An experienced company will be able to take the small sampling and actually manipulate, overlay and append demographic variables such as exact age, gender, income, dwelling unit size, length of residence, number of adults in household, presence of children, county and PRIZM codes. These customer traits then are analyzed to develop an ideal prospect model.


For example, by analyzing your current customer file, you will accomplish the following:


* Identify common traits of your best and your worst customers.


* Identify characteristics that volume customers share.


* Find underserved market segments.


* Identify new sales opportunities.


* Measure true market potential.


* Tailor marketing programs, brand messages and offers.


* Acquire prospect lists according to created profiles.


* Boost response to marketing initiatives and potentially reduce the number of pieces mailed.


* Identify likely candidates who will respond to direct response offers.


In addition to analyzing current customers, the smart direct marketer also will look at customers lost through attrition. The knowledge of inactive customers will allow you to identify traits that these people share and develop programs to decrease attrition.


Upon completing the analysis, your strategists can begin to create direct response programs targeted to the specific demographic groups that have been identified as being the best prospects. Whether these groups are potential high-volume users or underserved markets, a unique strategy can be created to penetrate and close new business.


Imagine being able to produce personalized mail that speaks directly to the interests of each of your best prospects. Imagine understanding the buying motives of each prospect and being able to create specific programs tailored to each person. And, imagine actually mailing fewer pieces while maintaining your number of responses.


You will begin to create direct mail programs that rely on proven techniques that generate response, not just mailing volumes of pieces and blanketing areas. In an era of intense worldwide marketing competition, your company will be positioned to better locate, solicit and convert new customers.


Michael A. Baler is vice president of marketing services at Dickinson Direct, Braintree, MA. His e-mail address is mikeba@dickinson.com.
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