For mailing list providers, datacards are their products on display. Like fresh produce or strings of pearls, they must project quality, desirability and value to potential buyers. They must reflect the credibility of the offering merchant. Whether a seasoned list buyer or a newcomer to the marketplace, it pays to re-visit the details that make a datacard worth considering.
The Big Stuff
List Title – The first thing a mailer sees is the list title. Is it engaging? Specific to the need? Does it instantly convey enough information to warrant a deeper look? Like a bumper sticker. Or the subject line of an email.
Last Update – This is the “sniff test”. The most important aspect of any list you are considering is freshness. Monthly update cycles are most common for both compiled and response lists. There may be weekly hotlines available. This depends on how often and to what degree the universe represented by the list changes. Older data has decayed. Recent data is more accurate and better positioned to reach the target. Fastidious list hygiene is irreplaceable. Current, reputable sources and regular updates are key.
Segments – Otherwise known as counts, this provides the universe size for the top level categories. For example, a large global business database will display the total universe which runs into the tens of millions, plus major segments broken down by domestic or international, and media channel. The numbers will vary as a function of the update cycle. They may go up or down. (More is not necessarily better.) The options available to mailers become increasingly granular as firmographic and demographic selects are considered.
List Record Cost Per Thousand – As in a restaurant, this is the menu. From the total universe to the most granular select price is calculated as cost-per-thousand to rent the list records. The range is fairly broad. Not surprising is the fact that more specialized lists and selects are pricier. The more elite or esoteric an audience is the more it will cost to be targeted. In many cases, such as high end items, the cost of reach may be worth the dollar value of higher response.
List Description – If this was an ad, it would be the body copy. Often there are two descriptions. A brief version (like an elevator speech) may accompany the title. Like the abstract offered in a Google search return, it offers a taste of what’s to come. A longer description (the backstory) will then follow and provides a more detailed overview of the audience the list reaches. The sources are cited (this will also be cited in the sidebar as “source or media”, and sometimes the methodology (for example, the number of calls/month to known buyers). These include compiled (public records, the internet) or response (subscriptions, past direct mail purchases, event attendance) sources. The description generally alludes to the direct marketer’s goals and offers support for accomplishing them.
Selects – These give you the flexibility to choose the specific target audience you want to reach from within the larger universe of a list. Or it means you can choose the audience member attributes that you need to target with relevance. These can run to specific firmographics (company location, size, revenue, etc.) or demographics (gender, age, income, etc.). Some list brokers offer psychographic selects based on predictive modeling. These include lifestyle and other behavioral data (such as internet usage behavior). In any case, the more, the better.
Profile – This is essentially a deeper dive into the the data. This corresponds numerically to selects, whereas the sidebar list of selects just specifies $/M. It is a valuable tool for scope and budgeting in that you can determine if a specific subgroup within the larger list meets your volume needs, within the bounds of the $/M you have already seen.
Geography – This becomes significant if the mailer is interested in domestic versus international audiences, or targets in specific parts of the U.S.
Minimum Number of Records – Here’s where flexibility can be welcome. Minimums almost invariably apply, ranging from a few thousand upwards. Depending on the scope of your test (or campaign) the cost/value may vary per thousand actual pieces sent. (The Big Box Store conundrum: Do you really need 48 rolls of paper towels?)
Continuation/Usage – If you don’t see this on the datacard, the information should be available from your list broker. The “test to continuation ratio” reveals how effective the mailing list has been. If the datacard information also includes the names of previous users, you then have a richer picture of how well the list performed, and for whom. is one of the most valuable resources for determining whether or not you should rent a list. Calculating the ratio is simple: the numerator is the number of new mailers that have tested the list, and the denominator is the number of these same mailers who re-ordered it (the continuation) for the same campaign within the past year. Basically, this can constitute third party validation, even an implied testimonial.
Datacards are not so much THE ANSWER, as a starting point to help mailers pose the right questions. The choosing of a mailing list or lists begins with datacard research and recommendation review. Never lose sight of freshness. Insist on the best sources. Seek flexibility and value. The process is complete only after a good dialog between an informed potential user and a transparent, expert mailing list provider.