Profiting from List Enhancement

By Schell, Ernest H. | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, October 1986 | Go to article overview

Profiting from List Enhancement


Schell, Ernest H., Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


Profiting from list enhancement

"Database' is a popular buzz word in the mailing list industry these days. Some wags may claim that a database is nothing but a mailing list with an expensive price tag --but if you treat the subject as a joke, then chances are you're missing major opportunities to fine tune your subscription promotions, beef up your list rental revenue, improve editorial positioning, and generate additional ad revenue.

Unfortunately, there are many reasons why publishing executives dismiss databases. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block for circulation managers and other magazine executives to overcome is fear: fear of computers, fear of technology, fear for data security, and the elementary fear of the unknown. Although computers have been part and parcel of the list business for well over a decade and shouldn't frighten anyone away, continuing high-tech advances in computer manipulation of list data, the proliferation of processing options, and the growing recognition of a potential for theft of data have left more than a few list managers slightly uneasy.

Yet another reason publishing executives hesitate is the bottom-line question of return on investment: Will the time and expense of getting involved in list enhancement pay out in increased subscription or advertising revenues?

When you consider that it is now possible to enhance your file for free (we'll see how later), the answer is probably "Yes.' But even for the enhancements you pay for, most publishers (of both consumer and business publications) have far more to gain than to lose from database enhancement.

Before we look at how it's done, how much it costs, and which magazines, by type and size, can benefit the most from list enhancement, let's define some basic terms that are frequently used with cavalier imprecision.

A list is a group of related items, usually names and addresses, from a single source compiled for a single purpose. For example, the active subscribers to Splurge! magazine would be one list, the expires another.

Each name on the list constitutes a record, which, in addition to the address, may include such related and derivative data as source code, expiration date, match code (or combination codes), and so on.

When similar lists are combined, they form databanks. The combined actives and expires for Splurge!, for example, would form a databank, as would the actives and/or expires for both Splurge! and its sister publication, Save!.

Building a true database

You don't have a true database until you combine data from a variety of different sources that add multiple analytical dimensions to your file or files. In the words of Richard Courtheoux, head of quantitative methods for Kestenbaum & Co., one of the leading authorities on database construction, a database is "a collection of interrelated data from multiple sources serving multiple applications.'

You're probably already working with a few database techniques. For example, if you combine promotional and renewal data files with the Splurge! active subscriber file, you can determine how well renewals hold up for free-issue subscribers as opposed to hard-offer subscribers. Or if you combine the same data with the Splurge!/Save! files, you can compare the percentage of Splurge! renewals on early-bird offers with those on the Save! file.

A database may also include data from outside sources--most typically a wide variety of demographic data such as age, income, race/ethnic origin, age/ name of spouse, number/ages/names of children, type of dwelling, length of residence, number of/types of automobiles, education, head of household and so on.

Such data can also be "interest' related, based on organization memberships, subscription data, product purchase history, travel records, and so forth. It can be derived from compiled lists, response lists, donor lists or public or private databanks. …

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