In their continuing search for new names, some catalogers have turned to self-reported databases. Typically generated by mass-mailed consumer surveys or product registration cards, these lists – sometimes enhanced with lifestyle and demographic data – have helped catalogers such as Omaha Steaks and Lillian Vernon find new customers.

According to Omaha Steaks database and circulation manager Maggie Nelson, the food gifts cataloger began using Toronto-based ICOM’s TargetSource database of self-reported survey data in July 1997, mailing to mail order buyers with food interests. This past July it began modeling this same list. Although Nelson would not provide specifics, she says that the TargetSource list outperforms the company’s average prospecting efforts.

ICOM’s 15 million- to 16 million-name TargetSource database is created from responses to twice-yearly mailings of more than 25 million surveys, though account director Alan Eaton says catalogers typically rent only the 4 million-5 million names from the most recent survey. “We bring new names to the file every six months,” he says.

Data in the TargetSource file include respondents’ product tastes and outside interests, demographic information, and buying habits; rental prices start at $65/M. Eaton says that TargetSource counts about 100 U.S. catalogers among its users, including Michigan Bulb and Sara Lee Direct.

Omaha Steaks also uses the Stamford, CT-based Polk Co.’s Lifestyle Selector database, which is compiled from product registration cards. “Some segments do well, and some don’t, and when they don’t, we go back and try to build a better model,” Nelson says. (Omaha Steaks uses a two-part prospecting system, sending prospects a letter with an offer to buy selected products at a discount. Respondents then receive a catalog with their order and remain on the list to receive future catalog mailings.)

Colin Lippincott, vice president/ general manager of business development at Polk, says catalogers have used the 41 million-name Lifestyle Selector database consistently during its 20 years on the market. But recently he’s seen more demand among catalogers for the company’s psycho-demographically enhanced Response Selector file. He describes the 53 million-name Response Selector as a nonexclusive co-op database of magazine subscribers and catalog buyers.

As with the Lifestyle Selector, up to 40% of the names in the Response Selector file are not documented mail order buyers, but Lippincott claims the l ist can work for catalogers via modeling. “By using other [demographic] data we have available to enhance the file, we’re able to get magazine names to work,” he says. Rental rates for the Lifestyle Selector database start at $70/M; prices for the Response Selector begin at $50/M.

Lillian Vernon, the Rye, NY-based general merchandise mailer, uses at least one self-reporting file from Polk. “It’s been a good source of names for us, and we’ll continue using it,” says spokesman David Hochberg.

Some catalogers also use self-reported databases to ready their lists for rental, says Shelly Vaughn, spokeswoman for Omaha, NE, database firm InfoUSA. In June, InfoUSA bought Ames, IA-based Donnelley Marketing, owner of the 31.5 million-name self-reported ShareForce database. Rental rates begin at $65/M.

Despite continued talk on Capitol Hill about privacy legislation, many catalogers remain unconcerned about cutting mailings to unwilling recipients. Among respondents to Catalog Age’s 1999 Benchmark Report on Lists (July issue), one-third do not maintain a “do not mail” file, either inhouse or at their service bureaus. Also, 57% of respondents don’t promote an opt-out within their catalogs. And although the Direct Marketing Association pushes mailers to make privacy a top concern, providing its Mail Preference Service (MPS) to filter out unwilling prospects, a whopping 73% of respondents report that they never use MPS.

But Pat Faley, vice president of ethics and consumer affairs for the DMA, believes some mailers may not realize that, through their service bureaus, they are using MPS after all: “The DMA’s `privacy promise’ requires that members use the MPS file. Our Catalog Council has 95% compliance, and our catalogers represent [a large percentage] of the U.S. catalog mail volume.” Opt-out practices are also part of the DMA’s recommendations. “It’s certainly in the marketers’ interest,” she says, adding that every catalog mailed to an unwilling recipient is wasted money.

But the survey data suggest that not all catalogers agree. Even if some are mistaken in their response and use MPS unknowingly, as Faley theorizes, the survey still indicates that not all catalogers are sold on the importance of privacy.

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