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Traditional, Web Marketers Must Partner

I can’t resist the irony.

Direct mailers as a group are traditionally very concerned about costs and return on investment. I’ve been around this industry long enough to know firsthand, and I have the battle scars to prove it. But in today’s brave new world of electronic mail and Internet marketing, list owners and managers can seemingly do no wrong.

I understand both the perceived advantages and the real benefits. Clearly, e-mail is here to stay. It’s an extraordinary marketing tool. I’ve grown accustomed to it like everyone else, but it is not a magic bullet. And we won’t see significant, sustained advances in direct marketing success until Internet marketers and traditional marketers join forces in a spirit of strategic cooperation.

I feel this collaboration must start with the sharing of information more freely between owners/managers and the list brokerage community. The sooner we begin, the better.

Imagine this scenario: A large, business-to-business magazine plans a mass outbound e-mail campaign designed to attract new subscribers to the publication. Enamored like most mailers of today’s electronic lists, the magazine’s traditional list broker acquires gross records from Internet files and provides them for the mailing broadcast.

The outbound mailing goes like clockwork. But because of the absence of any credible merge-purge capability with the e-mail list, the mailing inadvertently goes to hundreds of people who already subscribe.

Without the most basic ability to suppress current subscribers, we are regressing to the dark ages of direct marketing.

The broker is in a challenging position to try to provide mailers with the focused selectivity that is vitally important in today’s increasingly fragmented market. The mailer is embarrassed and somewhat discredited because its current customers may have gotten the same new business solicitation. They also may have received multiple transmissions of the message. For list owners, the lack of specific data will translate into less effective lists and less profitability in list rentals.

The luster will not last. There are a host of hot e-mail lists on the market, and their number is constantly growing. These files, however, do not necessarily have the credibility factor, the historical presence that the list broker needs to go back with to the mailer.

For the entire industry to flourish — in both postal and electronic forms, list owners and managers should work more closely with brokers to provide them with the standard background information they require to present e-mail files to mailers.

Since the traditional list broker is the sales representative, we are the conduit. We build our reputation on our expertise and our knowledge base. Mailers depend on us in this new area to be the experts. They want us to be involved. So we need to be better educated, given the resources to be more responsive to our mailers’ needs. There is a lot more research and activity that must go on before a broker can confidently present an e-mail list to a cost-conscious, efficiency-minded mailer.

More selectivity for brokers to provide their mailing customers is needed. Everyone is mailing out gross. There is no option, at this juncture, to do otherwise. So, more often than not, Web marketers risk ending up with a mail project like the one described above.

I’d like to see more e-mail lists being enhanced — both on the consumer and the BTB side. This can be accomplished easily, for example, by matching e-mail data against major consumer and BTB databases.

I am confident there will be new products launched in the coming months to address this issue and the associated security concerns. The market demands it.

With this same initiative we should explore different ways to collaborate on the continual improvement and analysis of e-mail files, the expansion of available data and the packaging of new products — i.e. master files, extracts, etc.

Partnering on this level, we would work together to make as much enhanced, demographic and psychographic information available as possible, in as many different enhanced products as possible. The entire industry benefits.

Dot-cards don’t do it; data cards do. As the industry’s sales force, brokers need the right tools to be successful. We need real, robust, informational data cards, not the meager “dot-cards” that proliferate today.

The dot-cards, in my estimation, are not viable sales tools. Our clients are yearning for more information. This begins with the requirement for basic demographic data. How about a brief, descriptive analysis, for starters? How was the data collected? Where do our e-mail targets live? Are they male or female? Young or old? Of what other products and services are they active consumers? How about Web site addresses?

These are key questions that are at the heart of traditional direct mail planning, but seem to be awkwardly lacking from today’s emerging e-mail arena.

But demographic data is just the beginning. What about information for a particular e-mail list that addresses deliverability? This highlights the number of e-mails that are bounced back to the mailer as undeliverable for one reason or another.

Information on gross click-through rates would provide mailers with key information about the number of recipients of e-mails on this list who tend to open the e-mail promotions they receive. Again, this is vitally important in terms of cost-effectiveness and efficiency when developing strategies and then analyzing return on investment.

And let’s not forget about net response rates. There are different terms like hard-bounce, soft-bounce, etc., but what people really want to know about is traditional response. Click-through rates don’t address this driving requirement. Real-world ROI will always be paramount, no matter what.

There is also the issue of transmission fees. Often missing from current dot-cards, or otherwise unclear if included, these processing fees can run as much as $25 per thousand to $150 per thousand, with many being in the $95 per thousand range. On top of the $250 to $300 per thousand for the list itself, mailers should be made aware of this added expense, up front and clearly.

More information for list brokers to better understand e-mail technology and terminology is needed. Selling e-mail lists is not as easy as selling traditional mailing lists. There is a good deal of technical information that must be understood and provided. In my opinion, there should be an educational process of sorts so people won’t be so hesitant to jump in.

For starters, in order for traditional brokers to adopt e-mail lists fully, gain a comfort level and maximize their value to mailers, I think the terminology that everyone is using has to be standardized and broadly understood.

But it’s more than just agreeing on acronyms. We need to get more people involved. Get them better educated in order to appeal to more of the masses in the list brokerage community.

For example, the DMA List Leader Council in March ran a very successful program geared to list professionals from leading companies. There is a yearning for this type of ongoing forum so traditional list people can integrate Internet marketing into their campaigns.

In conclusion, as I previously stated, the emerging dot-com players in today’s direct marketing arena are a welcome addition to an industry that is primed for technological innovation and efficiency advances. But in order for these gains to be realized across the industry spectrum, it will require a unified, collaborative effort between the new Web marketers and traditional direct mailers.

While there are myriad ways in which these two factions can come together as a community, it must begin with the sharing of information. Whether it is information about e-mail technology in general or about list data selectivity specifically, the sooner we begin sharing, the sooner our mailing customers will reap the benefits in their challenging, cross-channel campaigns.

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