If you want to know who's been turned down for planning permission
or who suffers from flatulent dogs, there's a list out there which tells
you. The sheer variety is staggering and new lists are appearing all the
time. The latest range from the UK Shareholders File, a new record of
financially astute stakeholders, names of people who buy Feng Shui
crystals and adjustable beds.
But just how reliable these lists are for matching prospects with
products is a recurring question. According to Mark Arnold, data broking
manager at Zed Data, finding more relevant information has never been
But take a look at what some direct marketers have been up to recently
and the picture is somewhat different.
Honda's direct marketing manager Matthew Coombe is working with Team LGM
to review its lists, while Lexus has appointed Partners Andrew Aldridge
to build a new one rather than doing what partner Phil Andrews describes
as "simply buying lists of BMW owners. This strategy fails to understand
how people respond to the Lexus proposition."
The perfect list, it seems, just isn't out there, no matter how hard
brokers try to persuade you otherwise. And, as Matthew Kelleher, general
manager of Claritas Interactive, says: "Good ones end up exhausted. They
start well at the beginning of the year, but they finish by being
marketed to death by cash-strapped list owners."
Everyone's idea of a dream list is, of course, very different. But when
exclusivity is key, there's no harm daydreaming. With the season of
goodwill and unexpected presents upon us, we asked direct marketers who
would be on their Christmas wish list.
Making lists work
"I'd love to mail all those people who really look forward to Christmas
but yet again get really naff gifts like kipper ties and diamond socks,"
says Christian Robinson, marketing manager of gadget e-tailer,
Firebox, which launched in April 2000, has had mixed responses from its
lists. "We started very niche," Robinson says, "hitting the lads market
with products like a shot glass chess set. It meant we bought readership
lists from magazines like Maxim and Stuff, which generated a four per
cent response rate. But as we move towards being more mass market,
targeting more females, we've had only half the response with equivalent
magazines." Robinson wants to start tackling the lifestyle databases as
a source of prospects - an area some still criticise for not being as
dream-inducing as they used to be.
"The one thing there's a shortage of," says Arnold, "is good attitudinal
data. But the latest lists aren't coming from Claritas or Experian, but
from customer surveys. One of the newest is from What Car? magazine. It
asked why people want to buy certain brands rather than just saying they
own x or y car."
What one direct marketer has on their database can be somebody else's
entire dream list for very different reasons. Martin Capel-Smith is one
such person. Marketing communications manager at pocket PC maker
Handspring, he says something like the Firebox list would be his dream
purchase. "We've hit an interesting crossroads," he says. "Our latest
product has a built-in wireless receiver which means users can surf the
web without needing a separate mobile phone. We need to define whether
our prospects are phone or computer users, as the product cuts across
Among the list experts there's recognition that clients are becoming
more demanding but, according to Jacqui Rolands, head of data at Lowe
Live, the classical methodology is still appropriate. "We've sourced
lists on people with hair loss problems to overseas expatriates in the
UK, and there's still a very good range to collect from. It's more the
list's accuracy that determines whether it's a 'dream list'."
Keeping it simple
Amazingly, very simple data is still a dream for some. Among Rolands'
dream lists would be one of student addresses during term time (rather
than their home addresses). Patrice Bendon, senior product manager for
Experian's Prospect Locator, the popular list recently updated with
consumer and MOSAIC demographic material, also believes simple is
"A list of job titles that actually reflect what people do would benefit
those who send mailers to the wrong people because of their inflated
titles," she says. "B2B lists that grade people to their purchasing
power, lists of millionaires' buying habits, and home and business
addresses on the same record so firms can target people based on their
careers would all be dream lists."
But it's when the obvious is overlooked that you realise what's 'really'
coveted by a company. "Rich people, high rollers, people intent on
making loads of money - these may be who you think I'd want on my dream
list,"says Peter Simpson, head of direct marketing at telephone banking
firm First Direct."What I want are those lofty souls who disdain the
mundane, avoid hassle at all costs, and frankly have better things to
If this sounds like an impossible brief, then maybe it's what brokers
and data managers ought to expect to hear more of. So says Chris Clarke,
account director at interactive marketing agency Abel & Baker, which has
collected new data for the likes of Virgin Mobile and Virgin Trains.
"I was in a pub last Saturday when I was texted to buy tomorrow's Mail
on Sunday to receive a free Sting CD," he recounts. "I was targeted
because I read papers, but why group Sting and MoS together? This shows
the science of list-buying, but looking at the wrong relationships."
Clarke believes the answer to your dream list is to add data only when
you've built up an understanding of why it is people think they need to
buy your product. "The whole language of lists is very war-like and
anti-personal - from 'sniper's rifle lists' to 'scattergun lists'," he
says. "My dream list would rank people's sense of humour. For a stand-up
comedian this is second nature - you either get booed off stage or
accepted. Mailers are no different."
Lateral thinking can reveal interesting wish lists. Jinny Hutchinson is
UK country manager of iobox.com, where phone-buffs can download mobile
ring tones. "We're expanding our product offering to games that can be
downloaded to palmtop computers," she says. " Our ideal list would be
people who remember how to play early 80s arcade games and know the
rules to Mortal Combat!"
The easiest way to get hold of this would be to buy lists from other
firms, such as computer game designers. But there's wariness to
prostitute valuable data. John Porter, direct marketing manager at The
Woodland Trust, has a clever solution: "Our dream list would be all
people who love trees. We swap data from mutually benefiting associates,
no money involved, such as environmental organisations."
But some wish lists border on pure indulgence. "My dream list would be
of wealthy 90-year-olds keen to support charities with a legacy and who
are reviewing their wills," says David Burrows, planning director at
Lorraine Brannan, head of product marketing at M&S Financial Services,
is also in a playful mood. "My fantasy list would be a perfect set of
look-a-likes for the most profitable customer in the M&S Financial
Services database. Lots of loyal members, who'll shop until they
drop ... Bridget Jones comes to mind! So here's a test for
Equifax/Claritas/Experian. Can you find me single women, in their
mid-30s who live and work in London in the media, buy more than just
'big knickers' from M&S, and live on Chardonnay, cappuccinos and
chocolate croissants?" You heard it here first.