Strategy Sharpen Your Circulation Skills
By Stephen R. Lett
How to improve planning and forecasting.
As circulation professionals, we know that when sales are good, it's the merchandise. Yet, when sales are off plan, we tend to feel responsible. Is it the lists mailed to, the mail date or the way the merge was run? Just what's causing the sales shortfall, and what can be done to avoid this in the future with proper advanced planning?
In this column, I identify some pitfalls circulation professionals may encounter in the planning and forecasting stages, and provide tips on how to reduce the risk of failure.
1. Manage Outside Prospect List Usage
List testing and usage should be based on proven historical results and sound logic. Continuation lists should be built into your circulation plan, of course. Knowing which lists to continue mailing always should be based on past results. However, when testing new list ideas it's important to get the help of an experienced broker in your particular product category.
Be sure you're driving the bus when it comes to outside list usage and testing. Certainly obtain co-workers' input, but base your list-testing decisions on historical results and your list broker's recommendations. Assume full responsibility for outside prospect lists you're testing, and mail with confidence. Rule of thumb: For every 10 lists you're testing for the first time, at least two will result in a continuation re-test.
2. Know Your Market's Demographics
Many a circulation professional has been challenged to select lists that, for example, either appeal to a younger or more upscale audience, while the catalog's target demographic traditionally has been older and lower-income consumers. Obviously, your current catalog won't necessarily appeal to customers you might like to add to your housefile — those in a different age or income bracket. The lists you choose don't determine to whom your catalog appeals — rather, the merchandise and offer are what matter. Therefore, if your merchandise offer isn't targeted to younger and/or upscale consumers, mailing to lists that contain names of younger or upscale prospects will result in poor list performance.