State of the List Industry: Past Strategies Still Solve Today's Challenges

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Publishers, catalogers, business-to-business marketers, fundraisers and other list owners face common problems with their list rental programs. Years ago, steady growth was expected and delivered, but you may not see the same results today.


We've all been in meetings lately where we've heard that "flat is the new up," or that our business associates are approaching this quarter with "cautious optimism."


With so many challenges confronting our clients - declining response rates, shrinking list universes, a lack of new files and increased production and postage costs - list managers need to be more creative than ever to meet our goals. The best ways to build a growing list rental program are the strategies we've learned in the past. Let's look at some ideas to build your sales:


Major mailer analysis. The old 80/20 rule applies here: 80 percent of orders come from 20 percent of clients. Monitor your major mailer activity and budget based on the marketing intelligence you get on their upcoming mail plans. As with most programs, the majority of your billing will come from a smaller percentage of your mailers, so get to know them at shows, learn about their programs and work with your manager as needed on negotiations to ensure future business.


A common strategy also is "renegotiate to reactivate." Try to find out how much your list missed the needed response/pay up goals and work with pricing and selection strategies to gain retests from major mailers.


Focus on new tests. New tests are the lifeblood of any program. Again, by looking to the lessons of the past, there are several strategies to increase tests.


Develop strong out-of-market policies, including base price discounts for non-affinity mailers. Publishing files should offer reduced pricing to fundraising offers and non-affinity catalog offers. In return, catalogs and fundraisers should offer out-of-category discounts or tiered pricing.


Test pricing has become more deal-centered, with mailers requesting free selects, test nets and reductions on run charges. List owners and managers must work together to win tests in a competitive marketplace where these new tests are harder to close.


Other areas include the growing public and private database market. More mailers use this marketing strategy, and you need to be prepared to deal with the terms required.


Look for new sources of tests within your current file structure as well. Do you offer e-mail or would you consider telemarketing on a controlled basis? Digital subscribers and e-newsletter subscribers are another example of this type of new select, but the lesson here is to offer as many selects as you have available.


Also, look for exchange opportunities with your new test mailers and factor the total value of all exchange business into the evaluation of your list manager.


Data enhancements. Develop more list rental business by applying demographic, psychographic, ethnic/religious and BTB data to your subscription file. Catalogers and fundraisers will benefit from this additional data, and in effect these overlays serve two purposes.


From a list rental perspective, overlays allow your list to be tested by age-specific mailers, religious organizations, income-targeted offers, employee-size orders and other test opportunities. Further, many of these overlays are available with no upfront costs since the mailers pay for the data as they order the tests. You'll see a slightly lower net per order, but in total it's possible to raise your bottom line 5 percent to 10 percent with the additional data.


Another benefit is the marketing intelligence you gain from this reporting. You know who your subscribers are from your surveys, questionnaires and focus groups. The overlay will confirm what you already know and may reveal other pockets of opportunity for your offer. For example, you could be doing well with new parents, grandparents, retirees, small companies or high-income individuals. These reports will give you the tools to profile your customers and may affect your acquisition strategies as a result.


Today's challenges will lead to tomorrow's success stories, with the planned and careful application of certain tested, proven strategies. Work with your list manager. Make them a partner in your total marketing planning, and the result will be the growth rate that you expect. Who knows, maybe we'll quit hearing the words "cautiously optimistic" and start hearing "very enthusiastic."


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