Lists and Prospecting: List Fulfillment Comes of
By Paul Miller, Senior News Editor, “Catalog Age”
This article contains material from Jim Wheaton, a
Principal at Wheaton Group. This material has been underlined
for quick reference.
Reprinted with permission from the November 1, 2002 issue
of Catalog Age, http://catalogagemag.com/ar/marketing_list_fulfillment_comes/index.htm.
Last January, Plano, TX-based service bureau Electronic Data Systems
(EDS) informed its clients that it would no longer support or distribute
rental lists on round-reel tapes. The standard for many years,
round-reel tapes have more than their share of problems, says EDS
director of list services Frank Tonge. Getting parts to repair
the machines that write the tapes, for instance, is difficult, as
they're not made anymore, he says.
Now EDS works primarily with file transfer protocol (FTP), which
enables clients to log onto a list provider's Website using a secure
password to receive or send files; Tonge says that 85% of the catalog
lists the firm outputs go via FTP or e-mail.
EDS isn't the only company to shuck old technology. Whereas
round-reel and mag tapes were the rule just a few years ago, today
they are the exception. And many mailers, list firms, and
service bureaus say the benefits such advancements bring to the
table – primarily speedier delivery – help them get
names processed more efficiently.
Len Schenker, CEO of Farmingdale, NY-based data processing provider
Anchor Computer, estimates that five years ago his company received
no more than 5% of the lists it processed via e-mail or FTP.
Today more than 50% of the lists are transmitted by those methods.
“We probably doubled the amount within the past year,”
Likewise, Los Angeles-based cataloger Viking Office Products receives
about half of its rented lists via FTP, says Amit Mitra, vice president,
U.S. and Asia Pacific.
“Most of our lists are an internal transfer from our merge/purge
house, Acxiom, from one or more of its databases,” Mitra says.
“But the key contributing factor is that a lot more brokers
now understand the issues with fields, formats, bits, bytes, etc.,
and hence have helped their clients along. And there are a
lot more co-op databases that require lists to get to a certain
place at a certain time – or else. All of that has forced
list owners to play [digital] ball.”
Stepping Up List Delivery
Indeed, the need for
speed no doubt hastened the acceptance of FTP and e-mail as a means
of moving lists. Catalogers have long moaned that by the time
they received the lists they'd rented – typically at least
two weeks after they'd placed the order – the hotline names
were no longer hot.
That's no longer a complaint among those using FTP and e-mail to
send and receive lists. “Delivery time has improved
significantly to the point that I have placed an order and had it
delivered the next day,” says Shardul Pandya, catalog director
of Colonial Heights, VA-based gadgets marketer TechnoBrands.
The publisher of the TechnoScout catalog receives most of its lists
“A few years ago, that was out of the question,” Pandya
says. “There have been cases where a hotline was made
available on the day of my merge/purge cutoff – the last possible
day that a file could be delivered to the service bureau and still
make it into my merge – and e-mailed out to my merge/purge
house that day so that I was able to put it in the merge.”
In addition, Pandya says he's able to look at the latest sales results
of lists he's testing and “go to my list broker and say ‘I
would like to mail deeper into this list because it is performing
well – can you get me the names today by 2:00 p.m.?’”
Techno Brands' list broker has been able to pull the list together
and e-mail it to its service bureau within a few hours.
Chapel Hill, NC-based cataloger Performance Bicycle “used
to allow a couple of weeks from the time we placed the order to
the time we received the tape,” says vice president of database
marketing John Worsley. “Now we can get it in three
to five days easily. Usually what takes the most time is getting
in touch with the list owner to approve the order. But even
that process has been sped up because you have e-mails going back
and forth rather than faxes – and they're more trackable.”
Another benefit, Worsley says, is that Performance Bicycle is “no
longer dependent on brokers to get files. Our people can get
them directly from the service bureaus.”
Most of the list owners that Jim Hall, vice president of brokerage
with list firm Chilcutt Direct, deals with are comfortable e-mailing
lists on the day they're needed. Oklahoma City, OK-based Chilcutt
handles 50%-60% of its list orders via e-mail now, he says.
So whereas in the past it could take up to two weeks for renters
with established accounts to receive lists, now Hall says they get
That's still not the case for mailers renting lists from list owners
for the first time, Hall adds – though it's not because of
any technological shortcomings. Rather, the new renters still
need to be approved and to prepay, a process that Hall says can
take a week to 10 days. “But once the process is complete,
the list can still be e-mailed instantly.”
Clinging to the Old Methods
Of course, some list
owners still don't feel comfortable e-mailing lists. “I
think it's just personal fears among some list owners,” Hall
says, “but they're becoming more rare.”
What's more, although larger lists can be zipped or condensed to
fit on e-mails, some really big lists might not be e-mailable.
Indeed, nondigital technology isn't dead yet. “There are still
a significant number of list rentals I fulfill that are round-reel
tapes and totally obsolete,” says Jim Wheaton, a Chapel Hill,
NC-based database marketing consultant. “Some list management
companies still insist on using them, even some list managers who
request names shipped on round-reels.” Smaller list
owners and managers tend to be less up to speed on list fulfillment
technology, Wheaton says.
Moreover, new technology tends to bring its own particular kinks.
By relying primarily on FTP to receive its new lists, Performance
Bicycle sometimes retrieves incorrect files. “We can
be given a file name and access to a file,” Worsley says “but
still grab the wrong file or a mislabled file.”
But several list professionals believe that the increased use
of FTP and e-mail for list fulfillment will end up reducing errors.
Back when round-reel tapes were the standard, many marketers did
a bad job labeling them, Wheaton recalls. “I remember
going into the tape rooms at service bureaus, and there would be
hundreds of tapes, and nobody could figure out what to do with them
because they were so poorly marked.”
Now, Wheaton says, “if an issue arises in which you have
difficulty reading something, you can respond right away via e-mail.”
Jim Wheaton is a Principal at Wheaton Group, and can be reached
at 919-969-8859 or email@example.com. The
firm specializes in direct marketing consulting and data mining,
data quality assessment and assurance, and the delivery of cost-effective
data warehouses and marts. Jim is also a Co-Founder
of Data University www.datauniversity.org.