Being relevant is of increasing relevance. It is in our own best economic interest, in the best interest of our prospects and clients, and, at least in the medium of direct mail, it is in the best interest of the environment.
To achieve relevance, we need information about suspects, prospects, and customers. Getting that information from third parties has never been easier technologically. While credit-focused files are being withdrawn, the major consumer database purveyors are compiling and sharing more and more information.
There are two problems with this:
1. Consumers don't necessarily distinguish between manipulation of sensitive financial data and proper use of non-financial data for the sake of relevance.
2. Even if the information is behavioral, too many assumptions have to be made to get to individual relevance.
Expensive as it is, getting information directly from prospects and customers may be the best long-term solution. How much money does L.L. Bean save every year by asking new buyers which types of new catalogs they'd like to receive? It can be as simple as that.
There was an old axiom that the more questions you asked on a response form, the worse the response would be--and of course there's some truth to that. But asking some questions in most cases turns out to be a better response tactic than asking no questions. At Business Week more than a dozen years ago we tested dropping the three or four qualification questions. Nearly 20 percent of response was lost by doing so, and those questions were not really asked to gain relevance.
The benefits go beyond getting relevant answers: consumers want to be part of the marketing process from the beginning, and answering questions makes them a part of this process. Nonprofit organizations (and the editors of Cosmopolitan) know how involving questions and quizzes can be.
For example, a recent mailing for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence uses a 30-second, 7-questions opinion survey as a means of focusing the reader's attention on critical issues. After a long and passionate letter, the survey acts as a lightning rod.