Dec. 29 2006 11:43 AM

Your mailing list should be much more that just a collection of names and addresses. Behind every name is a person with unique interests, and behind every address is a location that tells you more about who resides there.


When you append lifestyle or demographic data to your company's mailing list, you can increase response rates with personalized messages or targeted offers. While phone number appending is the most popular request, just about any type of data is available to sweeten your housefile or compiled list.


You can target the households with grandparents, newlyweds, Hispanic surnames, pet owners, mail-order buyers, donors or outdoor enthusiasts. Or you can make selections based on financial data such as mortgage amounts, bankcard credit levels, trading activity, major expenditures or the value of vehicles. And this is only the tip of the iceberg!


Enhancement data is collected from consumers who fill out applications, subscriptions, data cards, warranties, enrollment forms, registrations, purchase orders or sweepstakes offers. This data is compiled from over two billion records to yield information on 160 million people and 110 million households. The major data compilers (Donnelley, Equifax and Experian) make it available to marketers and mailers.


Finding the Most Receptive Prospects

The benefits of appending enhancement data is that you as a mailer can target your messages more precisely by identifying characteristics such as income, age, marital status, home ownership, ethnicity, occupation and other traits. By using geographic data, you can penetrate population zones such as retirement communities, ethnic neighborhoods, vacation spots or seasonal places of residence. Lifestyle targeting lets you craft messages to individuals based on their leisure activities, interests, hobbies and purchases. There's no reason to mail broadly when you can narrow your audience to a specific reachable characteristic. In this way, you find a more receptive prospect, plus you save on postage and production costs in your mail center by not wasting mailpieces.


Sometimes, lifestyle data can be more difficult to find, resulting in lower match rates to your list. So when appending lifestyle data, it may be better to make a broader selection than a narrower one. For example, if you are selling binoculars, you might end up with a small list if you choose only "sailboat owners" for appending. But if you widen your append criteria to "outdoor enthusiasts," you'll get more matches to your list (backpackers, hunters, campers, etc.) and therefore better results.


U.S. Census Bureau data can also help a marketer build insight into a housefile. Once a decade, the Census Bureau collects a wealth of information on the US population. Marketers can choose from hundreds of variables that allow them to view where and how their customers live. With census data, you can learn about what your best customers have in common and then find more people just like them. Variables include location, income, education, ethnicity, age, marital status, military service and more.


Of course, some data is more difficult to get your hands on because of privacy rules. Certainly, data related to an individual's financial, pharmaceutical, medical or licensing history is harder to obtain today because of legislation such as the Shelby Act and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. One way to compensate without this insight is to pick other characteristics that would be similar to your needs. While you might not be able to get all drivers' license holders by state, you can certainly find people who have purchased auto insurance. What is most important is that you work with a data vendor who honors the appropriate opt-out and suppression requests and rulings.


Affordable for Any Pocketbook

Enhancing your lists with data is a process that pays for itself because it brings efficiencies and often more leads and sales. Consumer data is typically priced per element, per thousand records appended. Data elements range from $3 to $20 per element. On the high side, you can expect to pay $20 per thousand records appended to get mortgage information but only $3 per thousand appended to find homeowners. Many vendors offer incentives based on service bundles and volume. The more elements you add and the more records you submit, the lower the price will be.


Business enhancement data is also available but at a higher cost. You can expect to pay two to three times more to append business data such as sales volume, employee size, SIC code and more than 50 other variables.


A data service bureau may be helpful in guiding you through the selection process and recommending the best possible data source depending upon your needs. Know that append rates will be based upon the quality of the core data that you submit. Keeping your housefile clean should be an ongoing process because contact data is always deteriorating. It is suggested that you clean your own list using both National Change of Address and Delivery Sequence File before the data is submitted for enhancement services. The best data going in means the best data coming out.


Thanks to the Internet, submitting your postal files for the enhancement process is easy, and you can expect turn-around from a service bureau to be a day or less. Business growth depends on finding new customers and reaching existing customers more accurately. When your mailing list is matched to the mountains of available data, you'll have a lot more to work with than just name and address.


Jack Schember is media relations manager for Melissa Data Corp., a provider of data quality software and services. For more information about list enhancements, please visit