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Three simple rules for generating great response

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Back in 1872 a gentleman by the name of Montgomery Ward sent out a catalog to sell hoop skirts and paper collars, thereby ushering in the modern era of direct response. Richard W. Sears followed with his catalog in 1887. I can still recall as a kid pouring over the Sears catalog and choosing what I wanted. For years I thought that you didn't have to shop. Clothes just appeared at your door. That is power.

Ultimately it was a lesson in response. Now, as a marketing professional in the list business, I know how complicated it is to get that response.

The foundation for direct response starts with the lists. We all know that the success of the campaign resides with choosing the right lists for the target. So let's get back to basics with a few simple rules for renting lists.

Simple Rule No. 1: Set your marketing objective. Who do you want to reach? What is the objective of the campaign? Is it to drive leads, raise the noise level or be part of an awareness or branding campaign? Are you an emerging company or a well branded one? What is your sales cycle? Is it a complicated buy or a purchase anyone can make in the organization?

All these factors determine how to define your objective. Then you need to identify the target market to reach that objective with realistic expectations. Realism is key.

Simple Rule No. 2: Find an expert to partner with who will represent you and look out for your best interests. You can't be expected to know everything about lists. Choose someone who knows and understands your business and how to best deliver that target.

Use a seasoned and experienced direct marketing professional or consultant, whether with a direct marketing agency or a list broker that specializes in your part of the market. Take the time to interview prospective partners to measure their experience, direct response knowledge and how they present their information.

Be prepared with your customer and market knowledge. Good list professionals will ask a lot of questions. They can offer a variety of services, so decide what you need. They should know what has worked in the past for your target audience based on similar offers.

Expect that they will be able to negotiate access to the lists you need and get you the best rates. They should know details and procedure-the can and can't dos of the lists themselves. Legal issues are a minefield for marketers; a good list person should advise you correctly. Treat this person as part of your team with an open and honest dialogue.

Simple Rule No. 3: Evaluate the list plan as a diverse and balanced portfolio. Some lists are core choices and some are more peripheral. You'll want a blended mix that spreads the risk.

A good list broker or consultant should not just send you datacards. They should give you the reasoning behind them, such as why they chose certain demographics to meet the target. Do they know the list manager or owner's ability to meet your deadline and offer rates that stay within budget? Is the list built from direct response sources, a company customer list or a publication list, or is it compiled?

On the e-mail side, what is the source of the permission? Is the list manager/owner CAN-SPAM compliant? How often is the list updated, as recency is key?

You need to ask these important questions. All are part of a check-and-balance system to create the highest potential for response when coupled with your marketing message.

Marketing is a strategic puzzle of risk and reward. The best way to ensure lowering the risk to increase the reward is to target and measure based on the lists you choose-the foundation of direct response. Some principles never change. It was brilliant in 1872 and it still is in 2005. That is power.

Deb Goldstein is president of IDG List Services, Framingham, Mass. She can be reached at dgoldstein@idglist.com.

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