The direct mail list business – A primer for general management


Since last September, we’ve discussed printing, merchandise and catalog creative execution. Over the next few weeks, I’ll serve up some suggestions and insights regarding the list side of the catalog business.

Always remember, the 40/40/20 rule of direct marketing states that list selection can impact 40 percent of your direct marketing efforts. 

For starters, you’re probably paying WAY too much attention to your merchandise and creative efforts! That’s O.K., it’s only natural. You’re a merchant in a product driven company and you want your products and your brand image to represent the sum of your hard work. Besides, your products and image are the calling card for your business, right? 

But as I’ve said before, don’t yourself as a product-driven company. Start focusing on matching up the right lists to the right offering — not one before the other, but in concert with each other.

Your job as a direct marketer is to put the puzzle pieces in the right place regarding the list choices you make. But it can be much more complicated than that.

Let’s take a look at lists in general for a minute. There are many different lists on the market and many different list brokers you can choose from. 

Simply put, lists are either two things, customers or prospects. They are made up of people with some sort of affinity to each other. Usually the glue that holds the names on a list together represents certain demographic, psychographic, social or behavioral factors.

Three Kinds of Lists

The basic three kinds of lists you can choose for your marketing efforts are the following:

• House lists: your own customers and prospects already in your database

• Response lists: lists of people who’ve responded to a specific offer (eg: catalog buyers)

• Compiled lists: people who came from a source like compiling from a phone book or public records etc.

The closer you stick with product offering’s affinity, the better for your results. For instance, your house list will always yield the best response. If you’re a consumer mail order cataloger, stay away from compiled lists and stick with response lists unless you have such a small list that you’ve exhausted all possible names of mail order buyers. From a product affinity perspective, the response list that most closely resembles your customers will most often return the best response rate. 

If you are a B-to-B marketer, then you may want to delve into the compiled list world.

Why? Stay tuned to my upcoming blogs, and I’ll explain why B-to-B and B-to-C catalog marketing efforts have very different list demands. We’ll also look in to some basics on list brokers and how to choose the right one, as well as other list concepts like circulation planning, RFM analysis, catalog co-op databases and models in the coming weeks.

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