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The Role of the List Broker in E-Mail Marketing

Permission-based e-mail marketing is growing at a rapid pace, becoming an integral part of direct marketers' prospecting and customer continuity efforts. In unison with this growth is the expanding role of the list broker, who in my opinion has adapted very well to this new electronic-marketing medium.

While it is second nature to seasoned direct marketers, many of the newer dot-com companies are just discovering the services of a list broker. Let's take a closer look at the evolving role of list brokers and their involvement with e-mail campaign deployment.

The market definition phase establishes a clear target audience. The methodology is unique to each broker, who is typically selected for his or her strengths in particular market areas. This process includes extensive research and analysis to yield a series of guidelines that describes who needs the mailer's products or services. It is the single most important activity, as it drives the logic for selecting lists and developing the media plan.

While list brokers don't necessarily claim to be copywriters, they have certainly seen countless offers combined with performance data that qualify them to provide valuable feedback. A broker who is experienced with e-mail campaigns may suggest minor copy enhancements to maximize performance and increase profitability of the overall campaign. Such enhancements can include tweaks in the subject line, formatting changes in the body copy, use of specific keywords in the message text or suggestions on deploying click-through tracking technologies. Higher-level discussion points may include the pros and cons of a hard sales offer vs. a soft lead generator as well as the nuances in using text, HTML or a hybrid of both.

In media plan development, list brokers harnesses their knowledge base of list media, combining data from the various list research tools in addition to their own experience with specific list universes. The end result is a media plan based on the previously defined target audience that is aligned with the mailer's budget and overall marketing goals.

Depending on the volumes involved, the list broker may be in a position to negotiate special pricing that will help reduce the break-even point for a particular campaign. Such negotiations are performed in conjunction with the appropriate list management organizations. Aspects of the negotiation process may include scheduling and turnaround time for the overall campaign, copy positioning if the media plan includes e-mail sponsorships, reciprocal rentals and list exchanges, as well as the arrangement of credit for the actual list rental transaction.

Once the media plan has been approved, the list broker's operation group will execute the plan, integrating job control and scheduling activities with the appropriate list managers. The task of organizing and coordinating messages, processing list rental agreements, keying URLs, bundling text/HTML copy, providing server locations for hosting graphic elements, ensuring compliance with restrictions localized to the individual lists, etc., is sometimes overlooked as simple. It requires an extremely high level of detail, an understanding of e-mail deployment and tracking and numerous quality control checkpoints. What is ultimately sent out to the list managers is what is reflected in the final campaign.

The final quality control point, this round of testing is usually performed between the list brokerage firm and the list manager/list vendor to ensure that all instructions have been properly interpreted before obtaining final review and approval by the marketer.

Performance information is typically shared with the list broker to evaluate and analyze the success of the campaign, providing closed-loop feedback at the individual list level so that modifications to the media plan can be made in an intelligent manner. This post-campaign consultation is an important service provided by the broker and will help guide the mailer in moving forward with future campaigns.

The good news for the companies that want to use the services of a list broker is that all of the aforementioned services provided by the list broker are performed at no additional cost; the broker is paid an industry standard commission from the owners of the lists. The solid brokerage infrastructure that contains list research tools, order entry, job trafficking and analysis are all proven systems that have been in place and refined to handle the needs of e-mail marketers.

In my opinion, the list brokerage community has done a wonderfully seamless job with the integration of e-mail list media with their brokerage services. It supports the fact that we are moving forward as information brokers, facilitating instantaneous desktop direct marketing activities.

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