The Canadian list business has experienced significant disruption since the beginning of the new millennium, both from economic and regulatory perspectives. The passing of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) in 2000, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)’s introduction of the National Do Not Call List in 2004 and the 2007/2008 recession dealt a series of blows to the industry. At the same time, changing business models and increased understanding of the importance of privacy and permission-based marketing have made organizations less inclined to make their databases available for rent. Indeed there are far fewer lists available for rent than there once were and certainly fewer list brokers.

More recently, Canada Post’s mail volume declined 30% from 2007 to 2014 and this past summer’s labour uncertainly was an additional setback for a direct mail industry that had been showing signs of a resurgence. It is difficult to overestimate the impact of Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) on the email list business—this segment of the business has almost, but not completely, disappeared. All the while, competition has been increasing from other corners of the industry and marketers can chose from a variety of alternative prospecting strategies including demographic segmentation, location-based marketing, web marketing and so on.

On the other hand, organizations are getting better at using data to understand their customers and are eager to apply that knowledge to their acquisition tactics. Thus, the role of the list service provider is expanding into data hygiene and integration, while shrinking costs are making database marketing a viable option for a huge new segment of the market—small and medium-size businesses. Traditional list customers such as fundraiser are leveraging them in new ways while rigorous privacy standards offer hope for email list rentals. Rather than disappearing the list business is rapidly evolving, and we spoke to industry leaders to understand how.

Fundraisers embrace reciprocal lists

Dan Danielson

Dan Danielson has been director of lists and data services at Stephen Thomas Ltd. for 20 years and says that in that time, while the list business has changed in terms of technology and volume, the fundamentals have not: “We try to get the best lists that we can for our clients’ acquisition mailings in order to find new donors and replace the ones that leave.”

According to Danielson the biggest shift he’s seen in the way fundraisers engage with lists is in the growing recognition of the effectiveness of reciprocal list exchanges versus rented lists. Conan MacLean, fundraising manager for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders Canada, confirms this change.

Conan MacLean

“After exclusively using rental lists for years, MSF now relies primarily on reciprocal lists for our acquisition mailings,” MacLean explains. “In our experience, it’s more cost efficient to use reciprocal lists and the results are better than rentals: if someone is giving to another charity, they are, by definition, charitable, and are more likely to support our cause than a person who doesn’t support any.

“There are alternatives to reciprocal and trade lists that we’ve considered, including some Canada Post products, but we’re still waiting for evidence that they work before testing them ourselves,” he concludes.

Danielson explains that while most organizations engaged in fundraising do not allow any access to their list of donors, there is a growing appreciation for the effectiveness of exchanges. “Those lists of identifiable donors to causes that have some affinity to your cause are the lists that always work best,” says Danielson.

A way forward for email lists

PTM One Source has been a leading healthcare communications marketing company for over 30 years, and they have always understood the importance of quality over quantity. President and founder Joe Trager is a doctor who hasn’t practiced medicine in 30 years but was still licensed up until last year, so he often receives communication intended for practicing doctors for which he has been incorrectly targeted. It’s an ongoing lesson in the crucial importance of data quality over quantity.

“Our audience is in the hundreds of thousands, whereas with B2C you’re into the millions,” explains Trager “That’s why every name is critical to us. There are only 600 oncologists in the country. It’s just a numbers game.”

When Trager noticed a correlation between promotional emails being sent to doctors and unsubscribes, PTM One Source began sending out email marketing guidelines to its email list rental clients, which were very well received.

“These are important people and so we need to be very mindful of the fact that we need to respect their needs and we have to be able to service them in the appropriate fashion,” says Trager. This stringent focus on both data quality and permission-based marketing has allowed PTM to maintain what they believe is the largest email marketing database of medical professionals in the country.

Market demand expanding to include SMBs

“You can’t have direct marketing without a list of prospects,” says Jeff Bissett, founder of Lists have always been at the core of Bissett’s business, although the services offered have evolved to fulfill the changing needs of the market. Today more than half of the work does for its clients involves working with the data they already have—with list rentals filling specific gaps rather than serving as the foundation for the high-volume, “spray and pray” approach of yesteryear

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“I’ve seen a very distinct trend toward the mid- and small-business (SMB) market becoming customers of ours,” he observes. “In the early days of this business we only worked for very large companies because they were the only ones who really could afford database marketing and direct marketing. Now this data, these tools, this technology has become mature enough and cost effective enough that it is easily within reach of SMBs and they are taking advantage of that in a big way.

“In the past we had to focus on the top five percent of the market and now we can focus on the top 50%, so it’s a huge market for us to be able to address with innovative solutions. The technology and the automation have brought costs down so that its very affordable for them.”

Toward customer-centric, multichannel database marketing

“While advanced, predicative analytics and smarter direct targeting is improving performance and ROI, applying insights to lists sources is not feasible in Canada and driving marketers away from traditional lists,” explains Tony Rizzuto, senior director, 1:1 marketing at Epsilon. “The fact that lists are still mostly based on basic demographics and a transactional purchase (e.g. a magazine) does not meet the desired targeting precision that brands are now accustomed to.”

Epsilon’s core business is data and 1:1 marketing solutions and they have made a commitment to evolving with the market in order to offer the breadth and depth of products and services that modern marketers require in order to deliver omnichannel communications based on a single view of the customer.

“We have a long-standing heritage rooted in data, analytics and precision based targeting so one can say that we have been ahead of curve when it comes to meeting the demands for enhanced targeting,” Rizzuto continues. “Our consumer prospecting database today includes the opportunity to reach consumers across various offline and online channels—direct mail, email and social bringing true multi-channel potential to our clients and allowing brands to connect with consumers on their preferred channels. Complementary, our Conversant online media solution has evolved to allow marketers to target and re-target consumers based on actual devises and using data based on individual behaviors, providing marketers online with an opportunity for better targeting, improved engagement and ultimately higher conversion.”

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Direct Marketing. 

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Sarah O'Connor

Sarah O'Connor is the editor of Direct Marketing magazine.