If a consumer has a mailbox, chances are Patrick Bresser can find a way to reach him or her. A sales manager and supervisor in the 65-year-old Bresser’s Information Service, which was started in Detroit by his family, Bresser was raised to know the business of finding home and business locations. But times have changed since the old “Bresser’s” were printed as thick, blue-covered street address directories that were coveted like jewels on library shelves, newsroom desks and in marketing department cubicles.
Since the days when tens of thousands of mail marketers compiled lists by flipping through publications like Bresser’s, the nationwide business of address targeting and database management has evolved and diversified quickly to stay ahead of economic challenges and the rise of new media. More than ever, mailing list publishers are turning to technological advancements in gathering information to stay relevant to data-obsessed marketing clients.
Good thing, too, as national economic challenges have forced mailers to step up their research. Record-level home foreclosures and increased business shutdowns in recent years are part of what’s made it necessary for list brokers to be more diligent about list cleanliness. Even with the economy’s recent signs of recovery, about 4 million American households are in foreclosure or 90 days past due on loan payments, according to LPS Applied Analytics, which monitors mortgage trends. As of February, New York alone recorded 80,000 active home repossession cases in state courts.
“We go and find out what you’re selling, what it looks like, what it smells like, and then we go and find the most relevant prospect,” says Bresser, whose company is among those finding new paths to success.
Describing Bresser’s Information Service as both a list broker and “a compiler,” Bresser says advancements in web research have made it easier to cross-reference pieces of a potential consumer’s demographic puzzle: “Computers allow quicker updating and the ability to integrate. One of the larger credit compilers, for example, has a list of people by age and income, and they bring different data elements together from different sources. So the quality of the data that we — and our clients — can access for a particular address has gone way up.”
Adds Bresser, “In the old days, you could compile once a year and see maybe a 7-percent turnover (in addresses), and now it’s about 26 or 27 percent, easily.”
For marketers, perhaps the one silver lining in this crisis is that more frequent updating has led to improved list accuracy, says Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of DMA government affairs.
“While there are greater numbers of vacancies than in the past, the other side of that is there are fewer people being forced out of homes as the housing market starts to recover,” Cerasale adds. “A lot of the houses have been vacant for long periods of time, and people aren’t as hard to track as they were at the height of the foreclosures.”
Like Bresser’s, Texas-based Hoover’s Inc. has moved increasingly toward integrating data research. Also like Bresser’s, Hoover’s evolved from a reference book publisher into a list distributor, recently expanding data available to the 65 million companies it serves.
“You can now build a mailing list based on more than 60 target criteria — everything from credit pre-screen score to executive salary — well beyond the traditional location, size and industry criteria,” says Lucas Rotondo, Hoover’s product marketing manager. “This means that marketers can lower mailing costs and increase response rates by only mailing to qualified prospects.”
Hoover’s rebuilt data supply chain and wider pool of demographic sources are responses to both client demand and the changing landscape of businesses that it targets, Rotondo says. The company has also automated more processes and turned to its editorial staff to speed update processes. “This means fresher data,” adds Rotondo. “In the Internet age, customers expect real-time data and instant updates. The high rate of business closures and changes in today’s economy have made this even more challenging.”
DirectMail.com responded to client complaints about list accuracy by incorporating a “rigid, 30-day update process” in managing 140 million home addresses and 14 million business addresses in its data bank.
“If there’s one thing that customers will squawk about, it’s when their returned mail exceeds their expectations,” says Bob Salta, principal partner at the Baltimore-area broker. “They blame the mail company.”
“Since the housing collapse occurred,” explains Salta, “it was very obvious that we needed to find a solution for how we could mail smart and accurate lists. Traditionally, most companies might not update more than every 60 to 90 days, but, given these conditions, we thought that in order to ensure our customers that we are providing them with the cleanest data possible, we would reduce that time frame.”
Of course, despite the common reliance on digital resources, Bresser and others say traditional experience and legwork still matter most in mail targeting. List providers like Bresser’s follow up regularly with various data repositories, checking in each week to inquire about red flags such as recently disconnected telephone numbers, which often indicate vacant addresses. Other hands-on tasks include reviewing quarterly property deed updates reported through the county to help identify new residents, adds Bresser. The end result, he says, is improvement on the client’s return. “So if you sell left-handed golf clubs and there are only three left-handed golfers in the area, we’re not going to do a mass mailing — but we could do something more personalized.”
Meanwhile, DirectMail.com’s Salta says the combined strategies of improved address verification and expanded targeting options have been enough to lower the volume of “squawking” from customer complaints, which is music to his ears.
“We want to see mail work,” he announces. “And we want to see customers happy.”Catalogs, Prospecting, ROI, Statistics, Strategy, Targeting, Trends