Mailing Lists: Understanding the Dynamics of Consumer Data

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By Aliza Bornstein, copywriter, Melissa Data
In a January 28, 2009 webinar, host Dan Anglin covered such topics as: sources utilized during compilation; demographic and geographic selects; learning from existing customers and responders; and tips and trends.

1. Where do major data compliers get their data? 
Major compilation sources include: voter registration records; county deed records; mail order and Internet purchase transactions; warranty card registrations; US Census Bureau; proprietary research; online questionnaires; sweepstake entry forms; magazine and newspaper subscription records. 
2. What are the advantages of a consumer list as opposed to an occupant list?
The consumer list is going to give you a very wide variety of different demographics to where you can really hone in on a target audience that’s more likely to respond and purchase your product or service. It gives you a really good blend of coverage as well as demographic selectivity. 
Consumer List Advantages: wide variety of demographics to choose from; provides excellent blend between market coverage and selectivity; multi-use licenses available; more personable with HOH (head of household) first and last name. 
3. How can you target in on the regions where you do business? 
Available Geographic Selects: 5 Digit ZIP Code™; 9 Digit ZIP Code; ZIP®/carrier routes; SCF (Sectional Center Facility); State; County; Metro area; Radius in miles; Drive time. 
4. What demographic selections are available? 
Basic selects: adult age range; income range; homeowner/renter; dwelling unit size; length of residence; education; presence of child(ren); child age; gender; home value; marital status; occupation.
Premium Selects (Specialty Lists): ethnicity and language; political affiliation; religious beliefs; lifestyle data; health and ailment data; presence of pool; income producing assets; vehicle data; business owner at home; credit card types; estimated credit score; mail order donor.
The more detailed you get with your selection criteria, the more expensive it gets because it’s harder to compile. 
5. How can I build a list of prospects?
Learning from your own customers should serve as a primary step in trying to identify your next list of potential customers.
Market Intelligence: profiling your customers; predictive modeling; data append services.
Profile: determine the demographics of your customer base.
Compare: see how your customers compare to the general population.
Model: build a model on the predominant profile characteristics.
**Must have a statistically valid sample size (1,000+ names) and full name and address data.
6. What are industry tips and trends I should be aware of before sending out my direct mail piece? 
a. Homeowner Data–Don’t assume SFD (single-family dwelling). 
It’s a very common perception that if you select ‘homeowner’ by itself on your list that you’re going to get all single-family homes. ‘Homeowner’ can mean any type of dwelling. Unless you take the next step to determine the type of dwelling, you’re going to get all of them.
b. Income Data–It’s on the house
Income information is based on the house sold level. If it’s a dual-income household, where both the husband and wife work, you need to take that into consideration. Keep regional characteristics in check when selecting by income. $100K doesn’t buy much in terms of property in New York City, but it probably buys a 5-bedroom house in a mid-west state. 

c. Sensitive Data–Be sensitive with it!
Don’t send out a direct mail piece to a predominately Hispanic neighborhood written all in Spanish. Don’t assume all the households speak only Spanish–it’s offensive. Next time, make it bi-lingual. In the same accordance, you never want to call out the fact on your copy that you have prior knowledge of a person’s household makeup. Example: “Hey John Doe, to help combat your diabetic situation…” Try instead “If you or anyone in your household happens to suffer from diabetes…”
d. Retail Operations–Happy Birthday! 
Great data to use, especially for restaurants. You might treat people in surrounding neighborhoods to a free meal or dessert on their birthday. If you’re trying to gain new accounts through direct mail, this is a great incentive. A gym membership can also use this data to their advantage by offering free guest passes on their birthday or a free enrollment and low monthly fee.
e. Lifestyle Data–Keep it simple.
You have a lot of data to choose from. Don’t choose everything! Try to have a common theme when selecting these items. If you own an art gallery, look at people who collect art or attend art cultural events. Don’t get too distracted and pick obscure elements that may point your target audience in a different direction.
f. Dealing with List Brokers–When going direct may not be the best thing to do. 
Sometimes it’s better not to go direct. Dealing with a list broker will allow you to depend on their experience level and their recommendations as to which list–out of all those that are out there–are the right ones for you to take a look at. Also, a broker may have pretty significant buying power since their buying millions and millions of names per year, their wholesale rate to gain access to that information and the price they give you can end up being a lot less than if you ended up going direct. 
There are thousands of list brokers and list resellers that provide you access to consumer files. At the very least they should offer you 100 percent delivery guarantee and lowest price guarantee. Use these incentives as markers to gauge the comparison process. You’ll always win with the best list broker!

—Source: Modern Postcard Jan 28, 2009 webinar ( Dan Anglin is senior sales specialist at Modern Postcard. Reach him at