Winning the Name Game for the Broker

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The motto in the list industry has been "the client is always right." In this rapidly changing world of direct marketing, it is often the list professional that accepts responsibility for all list marketing frustrations.


As the middleman of the team, caught between the list owner and the end user, brokers need to be able to juggle many responsibilities. They need to be able to balance the mailers' questions of how much can you do for me, how quickly and at what cost, while trying to maintain profitability. To be a top level player, brokers must be able to meet all of their clients' needs, sometimes in what feels like record breaking time.


Taking all of this into account, how does a broker succeed? Here are team building strategies to help both the mailer and the broker emerge as winners:


Show-and-tell. Mailers need to have an open dialogue with their vendors to create a more valuable partnership. List brokers should be a mailer's strategic marketing partner -- not just a datacard dealer. Brokers of today are information navigators.


Their role is to help mailers through uncharted waters such as e-marketing, data mining, modeling and regression and building prospecting databases. For the broker to be well educated, the mailer should allow the account executive to attend multivendor brainstorming sessions, focus groups and be a part of the overall offer and creative process. Mailers need to provide comprehensive list usage and history reports, indicating previous successes and failures. Very often, the broker can revitalize and resegment marginal and poor performing files to turn them from an unprofitable situation to a proven winner.


Additionally, they can offer suggestions on how to marry creative with list targeting, do penetration studies to determine future list market potential and evaluate the best way to use multibuyers, reuses and net allocations.


Jack of all trades. The perception that brokers are merely order takers for the mailer is a thing of the past. To be a true player on the mailer's marketing team, brokers must provide additional value-added services. The broker may be the mailers' best source for information regarding competitors, trends in the marketplace and demographic and psychographic shifts of the population.


Beat the clock. Because of the advanced technological environment in which we all work, the computer has allowed us to do more work in significantly less time. Online datacard systems make every mailing list available with a few keystrokes or clicks of a mouse. However, no matter how advanced the list query system technologies have become, it can never replace the human mind. It takes time to review a mailer's campaigns and identify patterns that relate to age, gender and purchasing behavior. Once this pattern is analyzed, similar lists are selected and tested, and potential inefficient lists are eliminated.


A computer can break out categories of lists, but remember that it was a human who has subjectively categorized these lists in the first place. As no two people look at a painting in the same way, no two list brokers segment a mailing list the same. Remember that a true list professional needs adequate time to provide intelligent, well thought out list recommendations.


A penny saved is a penny earned. Broker compensation has become as antiquated as Cheshire labels, mag card typewriters and datacard tub files. As shrinking profit margins are forcing everyone to be more bottom-line oriented, brokers' compensation needs to be reevaluated. Many mailers request a split commission arrangement, regardless of the volume and frequency of their mailings. Once reserved as a reward for large quantities ordered, today even the smallest mailer expects to receive the same discounts as their larger counterparts.


The better brokers are at their job, from segmenting the file to negotiating pricing, the smaller the compensation level. When brokers negotiate lower list costs, they are in effect cutting their own profits. With every reduction in base price or net name arrangement, list brokers have done more work for less money. To motivate list brokers, mailers should consider paying brokers flat monthly retainers for services rendered. The mailer would then receive the full 20 percent commission traditionally allowed to list brokers. The retainer would also cover the cost of the additional value-added services done to help make the mailer's campaign more successful, from mail plans, category penetration studies, competitive pricing analysis, monitoring of trends in the industry, etc.


This pricing structure is similar to how advertising agencies work with their clients. Bonus incentives could also be established to reward a broker for saving the mailer significant sums of money. This profit sharing plan ensures a win-win situation for all involved. Fee-based services ensure that brokers are working harder and smarter.


List brokers are an essential player in the name game. Sharing knowledge with list professionals will turn great ideas into sound solutions. An open, team approach with brokers is the key to success. If brokers are not treated as a valued partner, a mailer may find they are struggling to win the name game with too few players on the court.


Adrea Rubin is CEO of Adrea Rubin Marketing Inc., New York. Her e-mail address is ajr@armktg.com.

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