Evolving Beyond the Mail List… Bringing More Value to the Table


Kara Shipulski, Vice President/Senior Managing Director, Liberty Mutual Insurance

Twenty-five years ago when I first entered the space of co-branding and co-marketing, the premise was rather simple. One partner had a product they wanted to sell to customers and the other partner provided a mail list to market that product to. In many cases, it was transactional in nature. Company A paid either revenue for the list or for the production and Company B did all of the marketing, distribution and servicing. These niche mail lists provided access to customers a company couldn’t buy through other means. Response rates were solid and follow-up activities like outbound calling were used to provide an overall lift in results.

Flash forward to the current day and things have changed dramatically. The advertising arms race is a real thing with many industries. The insurance company as an example is one of the largest sectors of TV advertising. Do-not-mail and calls lists have proliferated to a point where consumers have control of who, how and if they get contacted. Companies like Experian and Axciom have built up their businesses with massive databases of U.S. households to make it easier for companies to buy directly from those organizations instead of through multiple partnerships. In these transactional relationships, many organizations stack up the leads generated from these programs and rank them against other marketing leads in the broader digital, mass market direct mail and aggregator space to determine which have the higher return. Affinity groups must change the game when thinking what they can bring to the table. A mail list alone will not cut it in today’s world. Here are some ways affinity groups can bring value to the table to differentiate themselves among partners.

  • Think about changing the model and owning more of the value chain. The simplest example of this is companies that move beyond lead gen agreements to distribution agreements to selling the product.  In many industries such as insurance there are regulatory requirements. Companies can partner with intermediaries to act as their “rented agency.”  Now this transformation isn’t for everyone and does take investment but companies with strong brands may decide it’s worth the effort. An example of this is Amazon’s recent announcement about selling small commercial insurance to their third-party sellers in the US.
  • Digital value is king. One of the easiest areas of digital to execute is email. Email programs add immense value to any partnership. The reality is, that for many members or consumers, this is how they expect to hear about these programs. However, the experience matters. Making the experience simple and seamless is critical as most emails are viewed on mobile devices. Streamlining the process  will increase throughput and offer your member a better experience. Email is not the only way you can engage digitally; think about your current ecosystem and how this offer could easily assimilate into it whether it be through an app or member sign up or renewal process.
  • Unique and clean data. In many cases basic information around name and address are readily available through general data sources. Think about the data you collect on your members or consumers and how that might be predictive in response to purchasing a partner’s data. Of course, with data privacy being a key pillar, think about how you might use this more effectively in your partnership. Data hygiene is an investment worth making to ensure your data will truly bring more value to your partnership.
  • Deepen the relationship in your company. Moving beyond the transactional nature of your partnership means building strong connections with both companies at all levels. The value of a relationship has so many opportunities beyond the lead. For partner organizations, there are areas around innovation, culture, DEI and advocacy, which could have intrinsic and strategic value for both organizations. 
  • Think broader. In many cases, a partnership starts with one product and may expand to others. The more products you have with a company, the more value you bring. This expansion doesn’t have to come in the form of other products in the US, you can also expand globally. For companies that offer programs or products outside the US, it’s another way to add value to the table.

Partnerships still can bring a lot of value to companies even in the age of mass marketing. However, you must be willing to think and act differently. This might mean prioritizing partnerships with stronger brands and companies willing to go “all in.” Affinity programs with strong brand attributes still bring higher returns and retention over mass marketing programs, but they must evolve to keep pace with data trends, emerging technology, and the rapidly changing consumer mindset. 

This content originally appeared in PIMA's Insights Magazine, 2021, Issue 2