Seeking overseas lists

Jun 01, 2005 9:30 PM  By

The world is getting smaller, thanks largely to the Internet. But for marketers that want to mail catalogs overseas, finding mailing lists remains daunting. It’s not an insurmountable challenge, however, provided that you know what you’re looking for and what’s available in each market.

First things first: There are two primary types of overseas lists. Multinational lists are made up of individuals or companies in multiple countries who have responded to an offer sent from offshore. Local lists are those within a given country that have data generated within that country.

Multinational choice

Individuals on multinational lists, which are sometimes called global or regional lists, invariably received an English-language offer from a company based outside of their own country. Such offers are typically made in a currency of the mailer’s home country — very often in U.S. dollars; the only payment options provided are the major international credit cards. Customer service options typically don’t extend beyond those that the mailer provides for its domestic customers.

Not surprisingly, these lists traditionally tended to deliver an audience of above-average education, affluence, and “worldliness.” Although rarely an identifiable segment for list selection purposes, a significant component in certain countries may be expatriates. Equally unsurprising, these lists deliver relatively small universes in individual countries. Only rarely will you find a multinational catalog list with more than 10,000 current buyers in any given country; the average is fewer than 5,000.

Because of the unique characteristics of the multi-national names, users find generally far greater success using out-of-category multinational lists than when they use out-of-category lists domestically. This is simply because in the most relevant sense, multinational lists are all in the same category: their own. First and foremost, these are buyers of foreign products who have a proven ability and willingness to make an overseas purchase. Within reason, it is these characteristics that outweigh the relevance of specific product categories purchased.

An advantage of using multinational lists is that they provide an opportunity for low-cost, valid international testing that requires minimal changes to your existing offer or operating procedures. Although multinational lists cost about the same as local lists, the operational costs of the offshore business model they help facilitate are very favorable. Arguably, they allow the user to test countries with the greatest long-term potential rollout opportunity at a local level to help determine the direction of future efforts and increased investment. They also allow the user to establish a basket of smaller countries that individually would not merit further investment but that add up to a lucrative audience that can be mailed homogeneously at low cost and in effect be treated as a single market.

Multinational lists remain the most visible of all international lists. In many cases they originate from U.S.-based companies or from the larger foreign direct-marketing-driven companies. For this reason, they are highly commercialized and have been on the radarscopes of U.S. list and user companies for many years. Any U.S.-based international broker should be able to provide you with comprehensive information on the lists in this category. U.S. catalog lists are found in this category, and U.S. catalogers mail to these multinational buyers successfully on an ongoing basis. In total number however, availability of this list type is relatively limited — perhaps 300 in all, primarily from publishing and catalog sources.

While English-speaking, upscale professionals still account for the bulk of the names on multinational lists, the makeup of the lists is becoming more diversified, mainly because companies are localizing some elements of their offers in the face of burgeoning local competition. More U.S.-based companies are accepting payment in local currencies, for instance, and are offering customer service and even some marketing materials in the local language.

The offer may still be intrinsically international, but of course now the list will not perform as well for another international offer unless that offer is similarly configured. In other words, if a multinational list incorporates any elements of localization such as these, then your offer must do so too in order for this list to perform to expectations.

The increase in local competition that is driving offshore marketers to cater to local preferences is also causing the multinational list universes in the major markets such as Australia, France, Germany, and the U.K. to shrink dramatically. There are probably 50% fewer names available in such countries from multi-national lists than there were five to seven years ago. Products that overseas buyers couldn’t easily purchase in the past are more readily available from local suppliers. Increased Internet accessibility, more broadcast media, and the growth in local direct mail all contribute to this change.

You may certainly mail successfully to the small numbers in these countries that are available, but be aware that rollout potential is negligible. Increasing penetration in these countries — not to mention deciding which of the countries to expand into firstwill require consideration of factors that go beyond which of them yields the highest response rate from multinational list testing. To achieve growth and establish a profitable market presence in the larger markets, it will be necessary to use local lists. This in turn necessitates a different marketing approach, one that deals more directly with local competitive and cultural forces.

Acting locally

Local lists, also referred to as national or country lists, are available in just about all the categories familiar to us in the States, including compiled files, response-generated lists, and co-op databases. Of course, the number of available lists, the number available in a given category, and the number in proportion to the market size will differ from country to country. But availability far exceeds that of multinational lists.

The most important thing regarding local lists is this: They will work only for offers that are localized to at least a certain degree, and localization involves multiple elements. You will need to incorporate at least some of these elements to successfully test local lists.

Language is of course a key element of offer localization, but by no means is it necessarily the overriding one. It might not surprise us to know that mailing an unmodified U.S. catalog to a local German list, no matter how targeted the list selection is, will not work. But this is not just because the recipient probably can’t read your catalog. The same catalog mailed to a highly targeted local U.K. or Australian list, for example, no matter how close the list category affinity, will invariably fare no better, despite the common (or close enough) language.

Why won’t this work? Because the audience represented by local lists is conditioned to respond to local offers on local terms. In other words, you’ve got to meet these prospects on their own terms and in a manner that is competitive with the local companies with whom they are already comfortable doing business with. Local customers want to pay by their preferred method, and they want delivery times and costs and customer service levels to meet the expectations they are accustomed to. They may well be wary or suspicious of dealing with a foreign company; they may even predisposed against you based on their perception of your country of origin.

Usually this means direct investment is necessary in the chosen country, with landed operations and customer service functions. In the U.K., for example, The Orvis Co., Lands’ End, and Peruvian Connection (among others) have multichannel businesses that essentially function as if they were local companies.


Mark Bridges is vice president/director, international division of Hackensack, NJ-based list services firm Mokrynskidirect.

Which nations have the best local lists?

Of the 192 recognized nations worldwide, no more than 40 have viable local lists and universes. Which countries are they? As a rule of thumb, the largest and/or most economically developed markets have the best list availability. But not every large or wealthy country has lists waiting to be rented. For instance, good compiled data are available in Japan, but genuinely good response data are still hard to come by. That’s because the commercialization of customer data has faced significant cultural barriers in Japan.

Two large markets with fast-growing economies, India and China, have only nascent local list markets. Availability is better in India than in China, but neither country really registers in terms of offering sufficient sources to sustain extensive direct marketing programs. In markets such as these, however, you may be able to gain access to lists that are not commercially available if you can develop personal contacts with peers who already have a presence there.

In Europe, similar anomalies exist. Remember, although in the E.U. there is umbrella privacy legislation that sets minimum expected parameters, individual member countries can apply stricter national measures. And so, for example, Italy and Denmark have less local list availability, certainly in terms of response-derived data, than other members of the E.U. But local list availability in the largest European markets — the U.K., Germany, and France — is very good by international standards.

Smaller countries in Europe with high economic growth rates, including Baltic and Eastern European markets, present marketing opportunities that local commercial list availability is not yet up to the task of meeting. Again, personal contacts may be able to help you develop list sources.

In Central and South America, the economic correlation holds true for the most part. Mexico, Brazil, India, and Argentina all have viable local list markets. Other countries in the region have limited local list availability, but they may serve as good examples of the types of countries best served by the multinational list universe.
MB