Take the Garbage Out of Your Lists

Garbage in, garbage out. We have all heard this MIS truism dozens of times. When you enter poor or incomplete data into your management information system, the information you get out will be less than optimal — and maybe just plain garbage. And that adage holds equally true when you use your brokerage firm to help you select lists.

If you remember back to Direct Marketing 101, you might recall one of the first and most important equations that you learned: “Results from any direct marketing campaign stem from a combination of three factors. These factors include offer, creative and list.” Depending on whose equation you believe, your list can account for as much as 40 percent of a campaign's success or failure. That is a pretty big chunk of your success riding on the folks who recommend and help you select your list — the list brokers.

There are good list brokers, and there are bad list brokers. In 20 years of creating and managing mailings and e-mailings, I have run into plenty of both. But if you have had a lack of success with your latest mailing, maybe the first place to look for the reason for this poor performance is in the mirror. Was the garbage that came out of this campaign the result of the garbage you put in?

Look again at that equation — 40 percent of your success depends on the list that you (and your broker) select. If list carries that much weight, don't you think the list broker should be one of your closest marketing partners? I cannot tell you your list broker should be one of your best friends, but shouldn't he be one of your most intimate business associates? This person — or people, if you happen to use more than one broker — should be so involved in your business that he knows darn near as much as you. He needs to know your offer. He needs to know your creative. He needs to know your strategies, tests, goals and even more. Now, using reverse logic, because list is only 40 percent of the success equation, and list does not exist in a vacuum — it works together with the other two members of the success equation — shouldn't your broker know how list is interacting with creative and offer?

Back when I was on the mailer side of the business, I provided a quick checklist of information to every new broker I tested to give each one the tools necessary to do his job superbly. With 40 percent at stake, I did not need good brokers; I needed each to be a superb broker. Now that I have jumped to the brokerage side, this really is the information needed to help mailers succeed. The following is my checklist, but you might want to add more to your own:

· What are the specifics of your offer?

· Very specifically, at whom are you aiming the creative?

· Are you doing creative testing to pinpoint your audience?

· Are you doing any testing to try to expand your existing audience?

· What specific action do you want the recipient of your effort to do? Order from your catalog, order new products from your catalog, inquire from your campaign to get more information, sign up to receive a new publication, allow a sales call from your local sales representative, etc.?

· What types/categories of lists have worked well in the past? Database list, catalog buyer file of men's clothing aimed at young men, e-mail responders of technical publications, responders to Sunday supplement offers?

· What types/categories of lists have worked poorly in the past?

· What have been some of the list “surprises” from your past mailings — both good and bad?

· How do RFM, seasonality, demographics and psychographic factors affect your campaign results?

· If you rent your list, who are the frequent renters?

· How are you gauging the success of this campaign (dollars per piece mailed, response rate, cost per response, etc.)? Sales per piece mailed, gross response rate, cost per qualified subscriber, profit per thousand catalogs mailed, investment spent per new customer?

· What are the results of all of your campaign events for the past two years?

This is really where garbage in, garbage out comes into play. Think back to why many of us got into direct marketing in the first place. It was because direct marketing is based on concrete information and knowledge, not conjecture and guesswork. Your list broker probably got into this business for the same reasons. Do not expect your broker to do his job based on guesswork.

Many mailers are probably telling themselves: “But my response information is extremely confidential and is my very lifeblood. I can't risk letting my competition have it.” Unless you are using Lucky's Discount Brokerage and Bail Bond Service (all apologies to Lucky), you really do not have anything to worry about.

If you are still worried, index your results based on 100 as your average. The major brokerage companies will not risk their hard-earned reputations giving out sensitive information to your competition. That is not why we are in the business. Your success is our success. We want you to succeed. We actually want you to trounce your competition. And we don't want to be the ones polluting the direct marketing environment by putting out more garbage.

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