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 DM Best Practices

 DM Best Practices

List Management

Databases and Lists

Simply put, lists comprise raw information. They contain basic data such as the target's name and address. Most lists are generally either response lists (people or organizations who have responded to your, or other people's, offers) or compiled lists (people or organizations who subscribe to certain magazines or who hold a particular credit card).

By contrast, a database can provide you with vital insights that will increase the effectiveness of your Direct Mail activities. A good database is a very powerful tool and is, without doubt, the most important component of the Direct Mailer's armoury. Apart from just a simple name and address, your database should contain every single piece of information you need to make your mailings more relevant and better targeted.

For individuals, you can also add your targets' hobbies and interests, favourite shopping spots, regular holiday destinations and spending habits.

For organizations, you should include job titles as well as names, the identity of key decision-makers and product-relevant information, along with anything else that you think will help you to communicate better.

With a good database management system, all of this information can be customized precisely to your needs, mailing by mailing. But remember, before you can set about building your database, you must first compile your list.

Compiling your list
In addition to the lists that you already have as a result of your previous mailings, other lists can be rented from a list broker for a specific period of time (normally one year) and for a limited number of uses. These lists can be as comprehensive as a telephone directory; or as narrow as a listing of couples aged 23 - 31, both of whom work in the airline industry and who have 2 children being educated abroad.

No matter how obvious it sounds, when you're compiling your list, always keep in mind exactly who you're trying to target.

Most competent list brokers can be found through the Yellow Pages or ads in Direct Marketing publications. They will either supply you with lists they've compiled themselves or act as agents for lists compiled from other sources. However, in order to make the best use of your promotion money, you have to clearly define who your targets are, and ensure that the list broker matches your requirements carefully. You should also negotiate with them for taking a sample for testing, before committing to rolling out the entire list.

You can also compile your own lists from easily accessible public records, such as the Register of Motor Vehicles, or the Lands Registry. Magazines, as well as trade and professional associations, are another great source to consider, especially for reaching targets that share the same interests, pastimes or commercial activities.

A word of caution. In Hong Kong today, it's vital that you make enquiries about the exact source of the information you're about to rent or buy, in order to avoid any complications under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, which came into effect in December 1996.

On a more general note, it's also important that you check into the freshness and frequency of updating of any data you're planning to acquire. Any list that hasn't been de-duplicated recently or contains "dead" information could adversely affect your production and postal costs, and detract from your company's image.

Building Your Database
Now's the time to take all the information you've accumulated in compiling your Direct Mailing list and turn it into a database. In simple terms, in building a database you take hard, dry data and breathe life into it.

Your database should be much more than just an electronically stored list of information relating to individuals or organizations. It must also be able to stand updating and interrogation by a cross-section of users. This is what makes a good database the single most important component of the Direct Mail mix.

A good database will not only tell you your target's name, address, sex, age, occupation, income and lifestyle habits, it will also give you vital information regarding each individual's reaction to your previous mailings. This important segment in the database is usually marked as PSTs, or “Promotion Sales Trailers”. For example:

Did they ignore those promotions?
Did they respond to any of them?
When was the first time they responded to your mailings?
Of those three different formats you tested in your last mailing, which did they respond to?
If one of your mailings included a questionnaire, did they complete and return it?
Has their response been converted into a sale?
What are your next steps with this individual or group of individuals?

In many cases, marketers invest in keeping “Purchase Histories”, but forget about the importance of tracking their targets’ response to previous mailings. There is an almost infinite amount of information that your database can give you, depending on how it is designed.

Building a database that suits your requirements precisely is a complex business, and you should seek advice from a professional Direct Mail Marketing consultant, rather than just talking to the list broker alone.

To get the best results, here's a checklist to consider before you brief an outside specialist:

What are your objectives and precise requirements?
What will the data be used for?
How frequently will you be updating your database?
How many, and what type of, people will use your database?
What is the anticipated size of your potential customer base?
Are there any compatibility requirements with existing infrastructure?
And last, but not least, what is your budget?

A final thought. Having spent a lot of time and energy on this important project, always remember that your "relationship" with your database is a two-way street. For it to give you everything you ask of it, you have to keep it constantly updated with the results of your Direct Mail activities. Old data is useless data. Fresh data will help you make money by out-thinking and out-marketing your competitors.

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