Pigeonholing Limits Prospect Universes

I recently overheard a disturbing conversation among a group of baseball fans. They suggested that people who follow baseball know nothing about the arts, ballet specifically.

Because I am both a baseball fan and a balletomane, their shallow remarks caused me to stop and think: This kind of pigeonholing is shortsighted not only in the social arena; it also harms those of us in direct marketing!

The trap of diminishing returns that we fall into is targeting just one category and mailing only to that customer profile. It happens all the time. A fruit cataloger might mail only to people who buy food products through the mail. A broker might suggest only low-ticket lists for a mailer’s low-ticket offer. Sports offers might target only men.

We all assume various roles of parent, child, sibling, spouse, co-worker, friend, sports fan, hobbyist, patron of the arts, volunteer, etc. Though we may find ourselves on a cultural arts list, in reality every direct mail buyer is a multifaceted responder to many categories.

Take a look at my “contradictory” profile: I frequently buy baby items but I have no children; I make multiple purchases from low-end household goods catalogs as well as upscale jewelry and gift catalogs; I buy sports-related merchandise and attend the theater and opera; I subscribe to magazines targeted to younger women as well as those targeted to older women with families; I donate to various charitable organizations; I place orders by mail, phone, fax and online – all this, and I am only one person.

If this sounds like you or someone you know, then you realize there are more consumers of multiple types of products and services than “one-dimensional” single-category buyers.

Taking a step further into reality, most shoppers do not buy from just one channel. Based on an informal survey, I found that most people shop in retail stores, from catalogs and on the Internet. Many of the most technology-resistant people are addicted to eBay. Though some online shoppers never leave their mouse, or some mall rats never open catalogs at home, multichannel shoppers constitute the norm.

I also encounter resistance from marketers who do not want to use direct mail to reach non-direct mail buyers. However, people who shop retail still serve as candidates for direct mail offers – and not just to drive traffic to the mall. Brick-and-mortar buyers still put purchases on credit cards; they still travel, attend events and act as a conduit for your message. You want your brand name to be recognized, right? What better way than to place it in someone’s mailbox?

Another temptation that leads to descending results is typecasting people solely as specific types of donors. People like to support the specific charity that they think best furthers the cause. Donors to a particular animal-rights charity may not contribute to every animal-rights group, just the one they think does the most for animals. These same people are open to helping other types of causes by donating to particular charities in different categories such as a particular health cause, environmental group, children’s welfare agency or religious organization.

I think it is a mistake to ignore a certain category because “a fashion magazine subscriber would never donate to a cancer charity” or “a football fan would never buy from a jewelry catalog.” This limits your universe of prospects. Broadening our views of what the “typical” customer is will increase the number of test names dramatically. If a mailer shies away from a certain category because “that type of person would not buy from me,” then test into that population and see whether the typecasting holds.

If suddenly testing that population seems too big a step, try modeling the house file. But instead of looking at the typical demographics like age and income, look at other tendencies: Who are the house file customers? Donors? Pet owners? Subscribers? What other products have they bought through the mail? For example, if a food cataloger models its house file and finds that 20 percent of its buyers also donate to health charities, why not devote a test or two to a health-donor list in the next campaign? This could exponentially increase your number of mailable names.

One argument might be that an outside category list shows a low multi-buyer match in the merge, indicating that the names are unlike other, proven lists. This, however, could be a Catch-22. Is it possible that these donors have never ordered food through the mail because they have not received a food catalog – or perhaps, they just haven’t received yours? It’s like the grocery store that doesn’t sell peanut butter because its inventory listing shows that no one buys peanut butter in the store. If they carried the product, shoppers might buy it.

This logic applies to direct mail. Certain consumers may have never bought from a jewelry catalog because they have never received that catalog. Perhaps if you mail yours to them, they will buy from you. It is worth a test.

In these times of shrinking list universes, it could prove valuable to let go of preconceived consumer stereotypes and test into a few new categories. You never know when one list owner’s computer-products buyer becomes your next baby-magazine subscriber. Hey, you’d never know that you might run into a dyed-in-the-wool Yankees fan at the Balanchine Concerto Barocco ballet!

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