The merits of multis

Net-name arrangements, in which renters don’t pay for duplicate names eliminated during the merge/purge process, became popular in the 1980s. But today, more catalogers opt to pay for these names and remail them in subsequent mailings. In fact, just 5% of participants in Catalog Age’s 1998 Report on Lists and Databases (see July issue) use net-name arrangements on more than 25% of their list rentals, compared to 17% of respondents the previous year.

Also called multihits, multibuyers-those who purchase from several catalogs and therefore show up on several rental lists-“are the best names in the merge,” says Bill LaPierre, account manager at Peterborough, NH-based list firm The Millard Group. “They also tend to have a higher lifetime value and a higher average order size than unique names,”-which appear only once during a merge/purge.

LaPierre has found that multihits who don’t respond to a cataloger’s first mailing perform almost as well on remails as unique names do on the first mailings, while response from unique names have a greater falloff in a remail. Larry Shaw, director of marketing for general merchandise cataloger Vermont Country Store, has also found that to be true. “Multibuyer names usually perform about the same on a first remail as the average response of the first campaign drop, and they convert from prospects to buyers just as well too.”

Moreover, multis are a bargain. Say you’ve rented lists that cost $100/M, or 10 cents per name. A total of 10,000 multinames would then add $1,000 to an overall mailing cost. But if you receive a 3.8% response on a remail to multis who hadn’t responded to your first mailing, with an average order size of $50 you would generate an additional $19,000 in revenue.

Now, the drawbacks “You must request the right to remail multis at the time of your list order,” says Jeff Kelly, executive vice president of list management at Millard, “and pay for them in your original list order as well.” In other words, if a multihit makes a purchase from your first mailing, you can’t “return” the subsequent uses of his name for credit.

“And for some small catalogers that mail only twice a year, multibuyer names won’t work as well because they’ve gotten old,” Kelly says. The longer you wait to remail to multis, the “colder” they get. “You want to be sure to put them in your next remail. For most catalogs, that’s not a problem, since remails are usually 21-28 days apart,” he notes.

Mailers also can’t code the list source of multis. Arthur Borden, direct mail manager of Vermont Teddy Bear Co., stopped using multihit names this year, even though he says they’ve performed “amazingly well.” But without source codes, record-keeping and planning future list orders became problematic, he says.

Many catalogers address the issue of tracking the names by having their service bureau code multis as coming from any one of the lists on which the names appear. Other mailers opt to code multibuyer names evenly across all the rented lists; if a cataloger rents 10 lists, it will give each 10% of the “credit” for each converted multihit. Still other catalogers have the service bureau put all the multis into a separate list of their own.

LaPierre advises caution when running a merge/purge of names from co-op databases and from rented lists. “When you mix co-op file names with rented response list names in a merge, you may see duplicates,” he says. “But the co-op names may be from the exact same catalog and the exact same order” as the rented list.

And if a multihit name has different addresses, LaPierre recommends using the address that comes with each duplicate record when remailing. “This way, if one of the addresses is inaccurate, you have another chance at deliverability,” he says.

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