It’s in the cards: Tip-top list data cards are more than just a formality

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If heaven is in the details, a high-quality data card can be positively celestial.

When marketers, list brokers and direct-marketing agencies want to know the particulars of a database under consideration, the first source they go to is often the list’s data card. With their concise descriptions of files, numbers of names and companies, price and possible marketing uses, data cards are the primary documents used in making list-purchasing decisions.

“The idea of a data card is really important in that it gives marketers a map of what their data source looks like and, as a result, what they can expect by using that data source,” said Theresa Kushner, director of customer intelligence at Cisco Systems. “That’s essential to a direct marketer.”

But not all data cards are created equal.

In a quarterly ranking of 73 list management companies on the quality of their data cards, perfection was elusive, and some well-known companies had less than perfect scores.

“A high-quality data card has a lot to do with credibility and efficiency,” said Chris DeMartine, director of business development at NextMark, a provider of tools and resources for buying, selling and learning about mailing lists, and whose “First Quarter 2009 Data Card Quality Report” was released last month.

NextMark scores data cards using a weighted average of 13 attributes, with a primary emphasis on recent updates, and with consideration of such other factors as properly noted segments, geography, appropriate markets, description and source. A list manager’s particular score is an average of all the data-card scores in its portfolio.

NextMark is well-situated to judge data cards; it features on its Web site about 60,000 active lists from close to 800 list companies.

“What we’re saying is, if you look at a mailing list data card and there’s no description and only one select—and they don’t say if it’s e-mail or postal—that will get an F,” DeMartine said. “A good data card is the first step to assess if a list is any good.”

In NextMark’s data-card quality ranking, the top scoring list-management companies with 500 or more files were (in order) Edith Roman Associates and its e-mail specialist sibling, ePostDirect; American List Council; Statlistics; Macromark; Worldata; and Paramount Lists, all scoring above 90%.

Among list companies managing 250 to 499 files, top honors went to Complete Mailing Lists, Lighthouse List Co., List Bargains, List Experts, Media Source Solutions, PCS Mailing List Co. and List Connection, all of which tied for first with perfect 100% scores.

DeMartine is quick to point out that an accurate, current data card doesn’t guarantee that a marketing campaign based on that particular file will succeed.

“But if a company hasn’t updated a data card in six months, that could also be a sign of a neglected list or one they don’t care about any more,” DeMartine said.

Then there’s the confidence factor.

“If a list management company’s data cards aren’t up to date and are sloppy, the question is what else is it not doing right,” said David Klein, CEO of Macromark. “It’s a direct indication of how a list company does its business.”

NextMark’s report may help rivet attention on the lowly data card, if only because some have a low opinion of them.

“Very candidly, I find them to be of limited use,” said Cyndi Greenglass, president-agency services with direct-marketing agency Diamond Marketing Solutions. “They’re more of a sales sheet than an information card for me, and I find the information to be old, inaccurate, incomplete ... and not meaningful.

“To me, a data card is like a multiple listing service in real estate,” Greenglass said. “It may have nice pictures, but you have to go to the house and check it out very carefully before you would even commit to buying it.”

But it’s just those sorts of extra steps that a high-quality data card can help eliminate.

“If a list isn’t represented well on the data card, or it’s not what we thought it is, we’re wasting our time; and I don’t have time to waste,” said Lisa Donnelly, senior director-content strategy with direct marketing agency Merkle Inc. “I need that card to be accurate, concise and make sense when I look at it the first time,” she said.

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