Articles - Written by Arthur Hughes - 454 Comments
Prospect Databases – – A New Direction
|Despite the success of the Internet, direct mail continues to be the absolutely best way for many companies to acquire new customers. During the past two decades, mailers have developed very efficient and profitable direct mail methods. There are thousands of lists for rent, many of which contain households that will respond to promotions for credit cards, insurance, publications, and scores of products and services. Intense competition has reduced the price of rental names to make direct mail highly profitable with the right offer to the right audience. Most people think that after twenty years of direct mail experience we have tried everything, but they are wrong.
What I am going to outline in this article will astonish some long time direct mail practitioners. It represents a new direction that breaks the mold of traditional merge purge mailing. The technique is the creation of a prospect database.
How large mailings are done today
In traditional direct mail, a mailer may rent names from 300 or more different lists. He has a service bureau conduct a merge purge to come up with a clean unduplicated mailing file. In selecting names, he would like to use criteria like age and income, but usually is limited to selecting names by what list they are on. All he can identify in the output of the merge purge are the multi-buyers (appearing on more than one list). He also can target the hot line names (bought within the past month). His final mailing file is divided into hundreds of segments. After the promotion, he checks to see which list performed best. He will rent names from those lists again. Next month, he will start the process all over again renting from 300 more lists. He has learned something (which lists work the best), but each month’s mailing costs are about the same and get almost the same response rates.
Traditional prospect mailings are typically stand-alone events. They require:
How a prospect database works
Let’s see how a prospect database works. Instead of renting names for a single use, the mailer, or his service bureau, makes an offer to the list owners to permit him to rent their names for a full year, paying them for each use. He puts the names into a database. Instead of doing an expensive merge purge every month, he does one massive merge purge at the start of the year (e.g. the initial database ‘load’), and then minor updates to the prospect database each month as customers are acquired, and new hot line names become available. Rather than continuing to merge/purge the entire database through additional database builds, additions and change files are fully hygiened and consolidated within the database to keep the file constantly ready for mailing. Overlays and other proprietary update techniques can be applied quarterly or monthly to keep all the information in the database as updated as practical.
Once the names are in a prospect database, he can afford to append data to each household. He will know the income, age, family composition, house type, lifestyle, length of residence, and mail responsiveness. He may be able to know how much they spend in his category. He may have credit data. He will know a lot more about each prospect than he ever can discover with traditional merge purge, which is usually limited to which lists their name appears on.
Each name in the prospect database has previous promotion history appended to it. It may have channel history — did this person buy from someone over the web? The data can be updated frequently from appended data, from hot line data, from NCOA and from other sources.
In traditional merge purge, the mailer never gets his hands on the actual data. With a prospect database the mailer accesses his prospects over the web using software like Brio or E.piphany. With this rich data on the prospects available on his desktop, he can develop acquisition models, which are impossible with traditional merge purge. With a prospect database, it is possible to determine how many times a particular person has been mailed in the past, and to develop a strategy for mailing that person in the future. This is almost impossible with monthly rented lists. Some marketers can develop matrices like this:
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