Making non-catalog lists work

Catalogers have traditionally shied away from nonresponse lists — publication subscriber files, donor files, compiled files. “If a gardening supply cataloger is using a subscriber list from a gardening magazine, the fallacy is to assume every subscriber is comfortable buying a product through the mail,” says Gina Valentino, general manager of Shawnee Mission, KS-based consultancy J. Schmid & Associates.

But because of the slowing growth of catalog buyer universes and an increase — spurred in part by cooperative databases — in mailings to those buyers, more catalogers are enhancing nonresponse lists in hopes of making them viable prospecting tools.

“To get a mail order buyer is preferable,” says Julia Belforti, circulation manager for men’s apparel title Undergear, which is owned by Weehawken, NJ-based multititle cataloger Hanover Direct. To flesh out its universe of prospective customers, however, Undergear rents a variety of subscriber files. About 70% of the lists belong to gay publications, with sports and fitness magazines making up the remainder.

Subscriber files account for 35%-40% of Undergear’s prospecting efforts. Because it’s likely that the prospects are seeing the catalog for the first time, Undergear includes in its prospect mailings a promotion, such as a percentage off, Belforti says.

Catalogs that are niche oriented such as Undergear, which specializes in body-conscious and even racy fashions, or skew toward a specific ethnicity are the most likely to succeed with subscriber files, says Jon Pogact, sales manager for Brewster, NY-based list firm Mal Dunn Associates. “There’s a publication out there for most everyone, including gay/lesbian, Hispanic, African American, tech savvy, boat builders, hikers, and just about anything else you could think of.”

If you’re considering using subscriber files, first test them with an initial order of 7,500-10,000 names. Analyze your house file demographics and look for affinities they might have with those of magazine lists. From there, choose your selects carefully, sticking with the same basic direct marketing principles by favoring the more recent subscribers. Also, Pogact says, inquire about available demographic selects that can enhance the quality of prospects.

J. Schmid’s Valentino advises taking advantage of any self-reported subscriber data the magazine can provide. Publishers often offer overlay data whereby the customers have “checked the box” on their renewal card indicating their interest in gardening or movies. “Overlaying demographic data such as age, income, presence of children, and new movers helps narrow the field,” Valentino says.

New case for compiled lists

For many catalogers, compiled lists — large repositories of data gathered from various public sources that a marketer would then have to pare down with selects — were even lower on the prospecting totem pole than subscriber files.

But that may be changing. Tom DeLong, sales executive for Hackensack, NJ-based list services firm Mokrynskidirect, insists that the compiled lists available today are more targeted and therefore more suitable for catalogers. It helps that more consumers are filling out survey data, he says, and that retailers are doing a better job of capturing customer purchase information as part of the sale and then sharing that information to compilers as part of a partnership.

For example, even five years ago, a sports cataloger would have had a hard time getting names of soccer players from compiled files. “Athletic” or “sports enthusiast” was about as close as a marketer could get to a soccer select. But more retailers, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sports Authority, are capturing customer information at the point of sale.

What’s more, compilers are now offering “trigger” response data akin to the recency, frequency, monetary value (RMF) selects that have long been proven to enhance catalog list performance. Consumers who have recently purchased something are more likely to buy again. Trigger data such as new movers or new homeowners help put your catalog offer in front of consumers when they need it the most, says Michele Volpe, vice president of sales and marketing for Plantation, FL-based consultancy Media Source Solutions.

Costs for such selects range from $5 to $15 on top of the cost of the compiled list. Compiled files, which cost anywhere from $40/M to $100/M, are generally cheaper than response lists or subscriber files, which usually start at about $90/M.

Schaumburg, Il-based Experian Marketing Services can overlay compiled “life event” data, which list names of new movers, new homeowners, or new parents. A cataloger would then append or overlay that data with its own RFM data “to improve that quality of that name,” says Jai Sanyal, vice president of product development. Experian can also overlay self-reported lifestyle or attitudinal data from consumers who have filled out warranty and information cards.

“The need for compilers to continue moving in this direction is clear,” says Mokrynskidirect’s DeLong. “Response file universes have dropped over the past couple of years, and co-op database performance continues to be tricky. Compilers see the opportunity to attract a new audience that is starved for new names, names that can be highly targeted at reasonable costs.”

“An advantage of using the compiled response data in this way is that you don’t have to share your most recent data with the compiler in order to have access to this valuable trigger data,” Volpe says. Many owners of response files, as well as cooperative databases, require catalogers that want to rent or exchange names to make their own house files available for prospecting.

Volpe also contends that compiled files, which are updated as often as weekly, are more current and provide more information than catalog or subscriber lists. “Those files aren’t updated as often, and you don’t know as much about the name on these types of lists, so you may not know as many triggers,” such as whether the person is a new parent or a homeowner.

On the other hand…

Despite the improved segmenting, Jim Wheaton, cofounder/principal of Chicago-based database consultancy Wheaton Group, says some consumer catalogers may still find it difficult to make nonresponse lists — and compiled lists in particular — cost-effectively generate customers.

“With a compiled list, there may or may not be interest there for what the consumer cataloger is selling,” Wheaton says. “Despite the clever data miners employing sophisticated statistics-based predictive modeling techniques to overlay hundreds of data elements, few consumer catalogers have succeeded with them.”

Roy Haas, director of sales and marketing for Conception, MO-based Christian greeting cards marketer Printery House, is one of those marketers that has not had luck with nonresponse files. “In the past, our return on noncatalog lists were not that strong,” he says. “So now we stick primarily with mail order buyers.”

But compiled lists can work well for business-to-business merchants, the rationale being that purchase managers or buying agents are more conditioned to buying through catalogs.

“Often for b-to-b catalogers, the best way to leverage these sources of compiled data is to build a private prospecting database,” Wheaton says. The marketer would typically lease the data for long-term usage — say, one year. “Prospect databases improve targeting possibilities compared with the traditional approach of renting lists for one-time usage, and often with significant cost savings.”

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