Tips to Bolster List Performance

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When it comes to developing a direct marketing campaign, the most important component is the mailing list. Though most DM professionals know this, sometimes copy and design overshadow the list element. In today's tight economy, squeezing a few more sales out of a mailing is essential.


Here are 11 tips for increasing your list's response rate.


Review list usage reports for each list you are renting or considering for a test. A list usage report provides the names of companies that rented the list over a recent period. If you find companies that share your target audience renting a particular list, consider testing that list.


If you are working with a list broker, ensure it has the resources to research the entire list rental market. Minimally, this includes the Marketing Information Network database and Standard Rate & Data Services list books. A list broker is basically a researcher, so ensure your broker has the tools to provide solid list recommendations.


Look deeper into a list by testing different demographics, recency, prospect names or recent expirees. For example, a simple change such as selecting six-month buyers over 12-month buyers may boost that list's response rate. The testing combinations are exponential.


Consider tapping fresh names from nontraditional list sources. For example, not all magazines and newspapers sell their subscriber names, but many provide access to their subscriber base if you reciprocate with a space ad. This also can be accomplished by trading names with organizations whose customers would be prime prospects. This strategy worked for a well-known publisher whose goal was to increase its circulation base.


If you cannot find a targeted list out of the 40,000+ available sources, consider building your own customized list. This can be done by sponsoring a question within a nationwide questionnaire or warranty card program. This technique garnered a large database of prospect names for a major retailer that simply could not target its audience by renting traditional mailing lists. The questionnaire sponsorship vendor also can enhance this customized prospect file with demographic/lifestyle data elements.


Develop a responder profile using statistical tools such as CHAID analysis. This statistical technique allows one to analyze the characteristics of responders vs. non-responders to a direct marketing campaign. It segments a mailing universe based on the best predictors of response and generates an easy-to-read tree diagram. It is worth the time and investment, and you can leverage this knowledge to develop a stronger creative strategy.


If you are pulling names from a list with finely tuned selection criteria, it is worth key coding at least a few of them. You then can ask your data processing vendor to provide a key code report. By comparing the key code counts with your pre-order counts, you can ensure that the correct segment was pulled. The cost for key coding is nominal, and the quality assurance is worth every penny.


Clean your mail file before mailing. Consider passing the file against the National Change of Address information with the "nixie" option. Though most direct marketers are familiar with NCOA, many are unfamiliar with its matching criteria. To receive an updated address from the NCOA file, your record needs to match exactly. If your record contains a middle initial and the NCOA file does not -- no match.


By including the nixie option, your service bureau will flag records that are close matches. In many cases, these records are undeliverable and may be candidates for suppression. If you are mailing to the over-50 market, consider bumping your house file and prospect files up against a deceased-name database. A few vendors have compiled proprietary databases containing millions of deceased records.


This may seem obvious, but make sure your list broker and creative team are on the same page. Many times the list broker and copywriter have a different understanding of the target audience. It is worth bringing both parties together to ensure that both target the same audience. Many times you will find that list availability drives the creative strategy.


Be willing to pay a fee for a comprehensive list research proposal. It takes an immense amount of time to review hundreds of qualified lists, request list usage reports and talk directly with list managers to identify the best lists. It is easy for a list broker to take shortcuts and simply provide a list of lists that reach the mailer's target audience. Negotiate a small stipend for research and you might be surprised to find new qualified test lists.


Consider working with a secondary, independent broker to uncover new test lists and ensure competitive list acquisition costs. I'm not suggesting you play list brokers against each other, but often a small brokerage agency will be happy to work with a large mailer on a smaller scale. Just make sure you set honest expectations with the secondary broker. The list component is too important for just one set of eyes.


Selecting the right mailing lists is essential in a direct marketing campaign. By implementing some of the above tips, you should be able to generate more revenue from your DM investments.


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