Outside of the Mailbox

May 01, 2004 9:30 PM  By

IT’S THE RARE CATALOGER that sells exclusively via catalog anymore. Which is why it’s the rare list firm that focuses exclusively on managing and recommending mailing lists. Today’s list companies offer multichannel-related services such as e-mail append, search engine placement, advice on integrating multichannel circulation strategies, e-mail deployment, and match-back efforts. “I’m called a list broker, but we’re really all media brokers,” says Geoff Batrouney, executive vice president of New Rochelle, NY-based Estee Marketing Group.

Hackensack, NJ-based Mokrynski & Associates, for instance, does everything from e-mail design and HTML coding to advising on affiliate marketing and paid search engine programs. “We act as full-blown online consultants to our clients. We have an entire e-commerce division that works with our list brokerage team to help our clients,” says Stephen Tamke, senior vice president/director of list brokerage.

Tamke focuses on the strategies catalogers need to plan the deployment of multichannel campaigns. For instance, he helped one multichannel client integrate its mailing schedule with its store promotions and then designed an e-mail strategy to tie in with the retail and catalog promotions. For another multichannel marketer, which wanted to keep its retail and catalog channels separate, Tamke avoided mailing retail traffic drivers during store promotional events, because it might have prevented customers from buying from the catalog.

“A multichannel program gives us a total view of your business,” says Linda Huntoon, executive vice president of Greenwich, CT-based Direct Media. “It gives us an insight into the channels a catalog is using to see how they are interacting.” When given access to a 360-degree view of a client, a list firm can prevent cannibalization — and even avoid multichannel disasters. For instance, Direct Media, which recently acquired May Development Services, a full-service print and production agency, now offers creative, print, and production services for insert pieces. When creating inserts for clients, it coordinates the timing and trafficking of the pieces with the other campaigns its handles for customers — a critical component.

“Every once in a while there’s a horror story where the Internet division doesn’t report to the catalog group,” Tamke says, “and a catalog is in home to a full-price circulation when suddenly the Internet division e-mails the entire customer file with a 30% off promotion, migrating those catalog buyers toward the Internet.”

FROM MAIL TO E-MAIL

Besides helping to avoid cannibalization of full-price customers, list firms can help coordinate “pre” and “post” e-mail programs that tie into catalog drops. The former “say ‘Watch your inbox for our new catalog’ or ‘Be the first to get a sneak preview of the new catalog,’” explains Tamke, who adds that such “heralding programs” can boost catalog response.

As for the latter, Huntoon says post e-mails can prolong the life of a catalog drop. “We may send an e-mail saying, ‘Did you get our most recent catalog? On page 16, you’ll find more of the lighthouses you have bought…use this code and get free shipping,’ and customers will find their catalog and place an order,” Huntoon explains.

While some catalogers transmit their e-mails themselves, others — particularly those with small staffs — use e-mail deployment services. Some list firms, such as Mokrynski, offer such services. “The client would send us its database and download its e-mail promotion, its HTML, and we would pull the names,” Tamke says. “We would choose with the client the names that are going to be mailed, and we marry them up with the HTML message — the e-mail message — and we really shoot the e-mail out to each of these people. Then we monitor and track the open rate, the bounce-back rate, the click-through rate, and the actual sales for each e-mail.”

Other list companies work with third-party firms on behalf of the cataloger. “We have terrific partnership arrangements with several leading e-mail deployment firms,” Huntoon says. “Either Direct Media or our client will supply them with the records for the pre and post e-mail campaigns. In conjunction with these partners, we’re also developing a user-friendly interface so that the cataloger could conduct these campaigns whenever they like.”

Some list firms even offer telemarketing tie-ins. “The mailer can e-mail first and then follow up with a call,” says John Ganis, president of list management for Pearl River, NY-based Edith Roman Associates. “We figure out what lists best suit their needs, we order the lists, we can set them up with the fulfillment part of it. We can help them out in that respect in terms of doing the merge/purge.”

Bethel, CT-based List Services Corp. helps catalogers coordinate their call center and e-mail upsell programs. “We are working with clients that take significant orders of their inbound sales transactions through telemarketing centers to place our direct marketing products as a post-transaction upsell that makes sense with their product offering,” says Tony Muro, vice president of list services interactive.

Supplemental e-mails or calls can decrease catalogers’ costs if they lead a customer to purchase via the Web, where it costs less to process an order than it does via the mail or call center. And targeted e-mails can also help with inventory control, says Huntoon, as catalogs with an overstock of a particular product can e-mail a discount offer to customers who have purchased similar product in the past.

Many list firms also offer e-mail append services, in which brokers help catalogers find additional e-mail addresses by matching up their customer file against various e-mail databases. Star Struck, a Bethel, CT-based cataloger of sports collectibles, worked with its list broker to increase the size of its e-mail database via appending. The broker also helped segment the database, says Jason Scheets, Star Struck’s chief operating officer. “They’ve taken our entire masterfile of catalog buyers and any e-mail names we’ve collected and segmented them down by team and by sport. So if I just want to grab names [of customers who purchased Yankee memorabilia], I can — after all, I wouldn’t want to send a Yankee e-mail to Red Sox fans.”

FROM PRINT TO THE WEB

Some list companies also provide search engine placement services, using paid placement or optimizing keywords on a cataloger’s Website to ensure that it appears prominently when prospects search for pertinent products.

Brokers also often keep catalogers abreast of new technologies that increase Website performance. “We spend a lot of time out there in the marketplace talking with people about new technologies that can help our clients both online and offline,” says Tamke. Mokrynski, for one, has provided catalogers with research on new services that use database technology to mine a customer’s purchase history, along with information about what he or she is ordering on the Website, to improve the average order size of a Web order. Tailored search, another technology, customizes a site’s performance according to what the customer clicks on during his visit.

“We’ve seen tests where upsell rates on the Web have almost tripled by switching to data-mining technology as opposed to upselling items chosen by the merchants,” says Tamke, who adds that tailoring e-mails to individual customers based on their buying history could also increase e-mail productivity.

Channel analysis and match-back codes, which identify which source — retail, Internet, or catalog — prompted a purchase, are other list firm services that help catalogers manage multichannel business.

Matching back is especially important because it gives a truer account of a list’s performance. “Some lists make the cut, not because they are gangbusters as far as their response from a telemarketing standpoint, but when you add back allocated Internet sales you see that the list actually does better than you might have thought if you had just analyzed it on its phone order action,” says Ben Perez, president of Peterborough, NH-based Millard Group.

Tracking source codes and channel usage may enable catalogers to reduce their direct mailings while increasing their use of targeted e-mail as a way of cutting their overall costs. “If you have your average cataloger mailing 15-18 times a year to its best customers, let’s say 30% of those customers purchased most recently from the Internet as opposed to on the phone. Is 18 catalogs at 72 pages the right number to be mailing to these people? Maybe we should be sending them 15 catalogs and replacing them with more targeted e-mails?” says Tamke, who adds that his number-one goal this year is to find that answer.

Sabrina Horne Del Franco, a freelance writer based in Milford, CT, has written for Catalog Age and Operations & Fulfillment, among other publications.

QUICK STAT

39% of catalogers have integrated their catalog database with the database for their transactional Website.
Source: Catalog Age 2003 Benchmark Report on Databases