Lists and Prospecting: New Look at Old Names Aids Abbey Press

Religious gifts cataloger Abbey Press used to rely on recency/frequency/monetary value (RFM) analysis to determine which house file names to mail to. But last fall, it began testing IntelliMerge, a name selection service from St. Paul, MN-based service provider CMS, to assess which names not to mail. And in its first mailing using IntelliMerge, the $30 million parent company of the Christian Family Catalog, You & Yours, and other titles found that response from its house file names increased, as did average order sizes.

IntelliMerge uses proprietary software to create a statistical predictive response technique that adds thousands of cells that “explode a basic recency/frequency/monetary segmentation matrix,” says CMS senior partner Steve Neseth.

The software analyzes past offers and their results to anticipate what future offers will yield from specific customers. Older segments of house files are the most likely to see the greatest improvement in response, Neseth says.

For its November 2002 edition, St. Meinrad, IN-based Abbey Press mailed 625,000 copies. Of the names chosen for that mailing, IntelliMerge selected 315,000 customers to whom Abbey Press had mailed the comparable book in 2001. From that portion of the mailing, Abbey drew the same 3.7% response it had generated in 2001, says Abbey Press president Gerald Wilhite. But IntelliMerge also chose another 310,000 customers to whom Abbey hadn’t mailed the book in 2001 and whom “our normal list selection criteria would have overlooked,” Wilhite says. Those customers yielded a 4.2% response. What’s more, the cataloger’s average order size for the mailing jumped 12%. Just as important, IntelliMerge found 100,000 names that it advised Abbey Press not to mail to again, Wilhite says.

A spring mailing yielded similar results. Abbey Press mailed to the same 563,000 names to whom it had mailed in spring 2002; they pulled a 2.88% response, compared with 3.39% the previous year. But IntelliMerge helped the cataloger eliminate 130,000 unproductive names and recommended mailing to another 123,000 names that the cataloger otherwise wouldn’t have mailed; these names pulled a 3.4% response.

Abbey Press pays IntelliMerge a $5,000 monthly licensing fee plus a $10,000-$15,000 fee for each merge, which CMS handles from start to finish. “The price is about the same as building a model for every mailing,” Wilhite says. “Over a year, we expect to go through a model-building process several times. It’s expensive for a small catalog like ours, but we get a very quick payback.” Neseth notes that testing and implementating IntelliMerge can take up to nine months.

Wilhite hopes that CMS will develop advanced versions of the service “to help in overall circulation planning and the development of contact strategies. We need to be continually looking for better and better approaches to list selection,” he says, “until we get 100% response rates.”

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