Direct mail lists provide opportunities for businesses to acquire, retain and create loyal customers. Yet which lists are typically the best performing lists? How do you go about finding mailing lists? And once you’ve found a list, how do you know if your investment paid off?
Direct Mail List Basics
Direct mail lists generally fall into three categories:
Company owned lists: These are direct mail (or email) lists that you’ve created on your own. Many online business include an opt-in box on their website so that customers and visitors can choose to provide their email address in exchange for information, news, white papers and other gifts. Companies can also create their own “house lists” as such lists are called by using records of previous purchases and leads to create a basic mailing list. For direct mail, you can use physical addresses without tacit permission. For email marketing, always use an opt-in method and only conduct permission-based marketing to avoid getting branded as a spammer.
Response lists: Response lists are rented by companies that specialize in mailing lists, called list brokers. Such a list is based on past purchasing or response behavior and may include catalog mailing lists, direct mail or direct television buyers, or magazine subscribers. Many companies make money by renting their list out to other companies. The idea behind using such a list is that past purchasing behavior is the best indicator of future purchasing behavior. In other words, if someone responded to a direct TV ad for jewelry, chances are better that they’ll respond to another offer for jewelry. List brokers often add additional selections for an extra fee, such as 3 month buyers. This allows you to target people who have recently bought such an item. Again, based on years of data from many industries, these are people most likely to respond again to similar offers, which is why direct marketers seek out such lists.
Compiled lists: Compiled lists are created or compiled from public records. Such lists used to be based on DMV records but now are mainly typed into computers directly from telephone books. Sometimes public data such as census data is appended to the list, providing some ability to sort by income and other factors from census data. Compiled lists are the least expensive but also the least likely to respond to specific offers. Going back to the jewelry example, you may rent a compiled list of people living in a high income zip code, thinking that they are likely to buy jewelry from a direct mail order catalog. But you have no way of knowing from the compiled list if such people are comfortable shopping online, by phone or from a catalog. A response list indicates that in the past, such consumers have done so – and are more likely to do so again.
There are general list brokers who offer a wide range of mailing lists and specialist such as Market Data Retrieval that focus solely on industry, such as education in the MDR example. Ask colleagues for the best list brokers in your industry.
Renting Mailing Lists
Once you’ve found a company offering lists, search their catalog or talk to a list broker on the phone. Share your ideal client profile; who are you targeting? The list brokers will suggest several lists and email or fax you data cards. Such cards provide the facts about the list: who is renting it, whether it is compiled or response, and data selects available. Data selects are optional methods to use a computer to narrow down the most likely prospects to respond to your offer. Select may include age, gender, products purchased, or recent shopping behavior.
Lists have a base cost per thousand. Typically list companies will not rent fewer than 10,000 records, so take the cost per thousand records, multiple that by 10, and that gives you the minimum amount of money you will have to spend on a list. There may be additional charges added on for various selections or to actually generate the list from the computer.
Make sure that the list has been updated recently. Good list companies run their lists through several databases obtained from the Direct Marketing Association and the US Post Office. These include removing the names of deceased persons, updating lists with the new addresses of people who have moved, and suppressing (removing) people who have requested to be on the “Do Not Mail” list or preference list from the Direct Marketing Association. All of this may add costs at the beginning of a list rental process, but think about the money wasted mailing pieces to people who cannot respond. If they’ve moved, died, or hate junk mail, why mail to them in the first place? You’re spending money on the creative design, the printing, the mailing house costs and postage, so save the money and don’t mail to those people.
Testing and Use of Direct Mail Lists
Although the minimum amount of names on n a typical direct mail list rental is around 5,000 to 10,000 names, many companies will allow you to rent a smaller segment for testing. Be sure to code your direct mail pieces with a unique phone number, source code or another method to track responses so you can see which list performed the best.
Mailing lists are rented for one time use or multiple, unlimited uses. You’ll be asked up front to specify which use you intend and most companies ask for a sample mail piece. One of the most frequently asked questions people new to direct mail ask me is, “Why can’t I just pay for one time use and then reuse the list, since most lists are provided electronically nowadays?” The answer is simple: you will be caught! Mailing list companies include addresses called “seeds” on their list which look to you and me like just any other name on the list, but actually go back to the company or to someone employed by the company to monitor the list. If you’re caught using a mailing list more times than you paid for it, you are subject to legal prosecution, fines or both. It’s not pretty. Don’t do it.
Direct Mail in Today’s Market
Direct mail has been around since the late 1800’s when catalogs opened a world of new goods to rural Americans. Although a large number of consumers have moved their shopping online, many still prefer to look at an old-fashioned catalog before buying. Direct mail can entice and invite consumers to visit a website to order. A good mix of old-fashioned direct mail marketing, postcard marketing, and a robust website with search engine optimization techniques in mind is a winning combination to acquire, retain and create loyal customers – and make money in the process.