Update on Multi-Channel Match-Backs

by Stephen Lett

Match-backs are the process of having your order file “matched-back” against your recent mail tapes in order to give credit to the proper source or key code on a list-by-list, segment-by-segment basis. They are a way of life for catalogers today.  Match-backs are automatic and routine (fairly). Match-backs are the only way to tell where the business is coming from (what source generated the order) and which key codes should be given credit for the sale. It is not uncommon today to trace only 30% to 40% of your orders to a specific key code without the aid of a match-back. Match-backs are not perfect. There are issues with date ranges, match-back logic used, timing of when the match-back is done, multiple catalog titles and more. This month, I want to bring you up-to-date on match-backs and why they are important to multi-channel catalogers.

 

HOW MATCH-BACKS ARE DONE

 

This process “matches back” orders to mailings using merge/purge logic. It allocates unknown orders back to mailed records based upon customer provided source code, customer number, merge/purge results, catalog in-home date and order date. The summary report includes source or key code, total mailed, total orders, total dollars, average order and dollars per book. Typical data needed to do a match-back includes: (1). Mail files from appropriate time frame. (2). A listing of all valid source or key codes. Examples: print mailings, e-mail campaigns, affiliate marketing, bounce backs, catalog request (inquiry) mailings, and other. (3). Order header records for the appropriate time frame. Desired fields include name/address, customer number, source code, order date and order amount.

There are an increasing number of records which cannot be matched to a mail file. This is the result of increases in search and affiliate web marketing. Buyers from these channels tend not to be good catalog buyers. Therefore, catalogers often reduce the number of catalogs they mail to these buyers. Catalogs also often eliminate catalog mailings to one-time Internet buyers (who are item purchasers, not catalog shoppers). This puts a premium on match-back programs which not only provide response reports but are also able to identify which customers are responding to a catalog mailing and which ones are coming from non-mailed sources or offers. Those responding to a catalog mailing are then put on a contact strategy appropriate for catalog responders while the non-matches are sent fewer (if any) catalogs. In order to accomplish this, the information would have to be brought back into the file so that when you “pull” customer records for a mailing, you can tell the difference between web buyers and web buyers driven by a catalog mailing.

 

WHY DO A MATCH-BACK

 

On average 40% of the business coming through (not from) the Internet cannot be traced to a specific source code. In addition, there is another 20% miscellaneous, non-traceable factor. This means that approximately 60% (at least) of the orders cannot be tracked to a specific source or key code.  There are often lists that are made up of heavier web buyers and therefore, they may look like they do not work well prior to a match-back, when they are actually profitable. Without a match-back you would never know this and any testing would have been wasted.  You could feel it is difficult to find prospect lists that work when in actuality there are good lists to add to your list continuations. In addition, you might have lists that look like they are falling off, or your total rentals look like they are trending downward.  This might just be a result of heavier web sales.  It sounds simple, but without truly knowing the level of performance of all segments mailed, you could be lead to some false conclusions that influence your marketing strategy and the decisions you make.  A match-back will keep you on track and give you the level of confidence in the results needed to make sound circulation judgments.

Co-mailing (off-line) is another recent development that is contributing to the non-traceable factor and contributing to the need for match-backs. This is the process of “co-mingling” catalogs together with other catalogs in order to create more discounts for the catalog companies who participate. With off-line co-mailing, which helps catalogers save thousands of dollars every year, only the back cover can be ink-jetted with the name, address and source code. The order form inside the catalog cannot be ink-jetted so the ability to trace the order if faxed, mailed or more commonly called-in is lost.

How frequent you should run a match-back really depends on how often you mail and how you are going to apply the results and/or data to your marketing/circulation strategy. I feel a match-back should be done two, three or four times a year depending on your degree of seasonality. For example, if your business if based on a fall/holiday season followed up with a spring season, doing a match-back twice a year is probably adequate. Some firms offer the ability to match-back weekly. It is nice to have the ability to match-back often but probably not cost justified. Doing match-backs with the same service bureau who is doing your merge/purge work is most common since they already have your mail tapes.

 

TYPICAL RESULTS FROM A MATCH-BACK

 

In the example below, the match-back attributed 35% of web and unknown demand back to a specific mailing. A total of $1,075,769 of gross demand revenue was credited to a specific source code. And, 62% of the total was allocated back to the housefile. This reinforces the fact that the catalog is the largest driver of traffic to the Web and most of the business going to the web is really from your own customers. Approximately 17% of the non-traceable amount was matched back to a cooperative database and to outside rented lists.

MATCH-BACK.xls
LETT Direct, Inc.
TYPICAL MATCH-BACK RESULTS
  BEFORE
MATCH-BACK
AFTER
MATCH-BACK
GAIN PERCENT
GAIN
PERCENT
ALLOCATED
Housefile $1,598,219 $2,263,755 $665,536 41.64% 61.87%
Inquiries $77,422 $123,351 $45,929 59.32% 4.27%
Cooperative Databases $724,747 $907,297 $182,550 25.19% 16.97%
Rental Lists $672,787 $854,541 $181,754 27.02% 16.90%
Total $3,073,175 $4,148,944 $1,075,769 35.01% 100.00%

Re-mails of the same catalog with different covers will affect your match-back results. The match-back results will be allocated to the most recent mailing. If your business is highly seasonal, this will skew results to the last mailing. Therefore, the results of the initial mailing and the re-mails should all be added together in order to spread the results more accurately across all of these drops. When it finds a match, the program will match to the most recent mail date. If it does not match that mail date, it goes back to an earlier drop, etc.

 

COST TO DO A MATCH-BACK

 

The cost to do a match-back is in the range of $2.50 per thousand. The base price often decreases if the match-back is done as part of a housefile update. This number of books circulated can also affect the base price you are quoted from your service bureau. Subscription prices which provide for the ability to match-back on-line weekly range from $2,000 to $4,000 and up. This option is more expensive and more time consuming to manage for the mailer.

 

IMPORTANT ISSUES WITH MATCH-BACKS

 

Allocating the Internet portion fairly is difficult. For example, if a customer purchases a product from the Internet, they become an Internet buyer. They will receive a catalog in the mail. They may make a second purchase from the Internet. When a match-back is done, this customer will always be considered a catalog buyer after their initial purchase because they were mailed a catalog with a housefile key code identifier. While the catalog remains the largest driver of traffic to the Web, this does make it difficult for the Internet Marketing Manager to verify that they are growing their business and remaining on budget since, in this case, the credit is going to the catalog. This factor will impact the repurchase stats for the Internet.

Date ranges are important to accurate match-back reporting which is yet another issue. How many months should be matched-back, for example? This varies by how often you mail and how much business is driven by the Web. The problem always occurs in the last catalog mailed during holiday. As I said earlier, the match-back will favor this mailing. I do not favor making any assumption for the allocation of this factor because it means introducing yet another unknown. Any allocation at this point is not necessary because what really matters is the performance of the housefile buyers by segment for all mailings combined. Any analysis from names that are mailed more than once i.e., re-mails should be evaluated in total across all mailings and not necessarily by individual drop or mailing.

Source code tracking is as important as it was 40 years ago. The fact that match-backs are done on the back-end of a mailing does not minimize the importance of capturing source codes on the front-end when possible. Continue to capture those source codes on the front-end and use the match-back to help allocate orders through the Web and miscellaneous non-traceable results. Recognize match-back methodology is not perfect. Certain assumptions must be made and it is not always black and white. Tracing orders and sales to a specific source or key code is critical to arriving at proper conclusions and making the best decision regarding future circulation plans.