The Basics of Direct Mail Lists

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.

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Five Tips For Renting Mailing Lists For Direct Mail Marketing

If you’re considering using direct mail as part of your marketing mix, it’s vital to understand what constitutes a good mailing list as well as ways to manage mailing list rentals to save money. The best mailing list you can use is your house file – the list of customers with whom you’ve already established a business relationship or who have inquired about your company’s products and services. Hands down, a house file out performs a rented list almost every time. Throughout my many years managing direct mail for large for profit and not for profit corporations, I always tested the house file against rented lists, and it was usually two for one; the house file outperformed rented lists twice as well.

While house files have an important place in the direct marketing mix, they cannot help you with prospecting or reaching new customers. That’s where rented mailing lists come into play. Mailing lists are never purchased but rather are rented for one or multiple times of use. Renters must enter into a contractual agreement with the list provider, promising never to sell or over mail to the list. How would they find out if you did? Each file is ‘seeded’ with names and addresses that are indistinguishable from the others on the list but contain the addresses of people employed to monitor and report list abuse. If you mail more than the amount of times you paid for, you will get fined by the list owner.

Before renting your first mailing list, there are five important considerations. Understanding each will not only help you save money on rental costs and mailings but can actually increase your response rate.

Five Mailing List Rental Considerations for Effective Direct Mail

1. Determine how many times you want to use the list.

Mailing lists are rented for a set number of uses. You cannot buy a list outright, nor can you rent it once and then use it multiple times without paying the list owner the appropriate rental fees. Consider renting a home. You wouldn’t pay for one month’s rent and then expect to live there your whole life rent-free, would you? List owners ‘seed’ mailing lists with recipients who track and monitor list usage. Begin your mailing list project by knowing how many times you plan to use your list. Most companies choose one time use until they know the list works for them.

2. Find the right list for your business.

Create a customer profile, outlining the demographics of the most likely customer. What are you selling? What do you want to get from your mailing? A pediatric dentist will rent an entirely different list from a hotel chain in a tourist town. Knowing your target customer and developing a specific profile helps you narrow down the myriad list choices. A basic customer profile outlines the gender, location, income, age bracket, and likes/dislikes of the customer. Companies that provide lists offer their customers many choices in selecting the right recipients. Often you will find selections along demographic information or recency of purchase or response. Choose the list selections that narrow down the target to the people most likely to respond to your offer. If the company offers names that have responded to offers in the last three months, a truism in direct marketing is that recent behaviors predict future behaviors, so it’s worth spending some money to rent these names. Companies who rent lists include InfoUSA, Walter Karl, and many others.

3. Order the appropriate output.

If you’re printing and mailing from a vendor, order an electronic file. The standard addressing method today is ink jet. Names, addresses, and bar codes that are easily read by post office machines are ink jet printed directly onto the mail piece. Small businesses who plan to send their own mailings may wish to order peel and stick labels. Ordering preprinted labels saves time. If ordering an electronic file, the file format called ASCI (pronounced “ask-eee”) easily converts into Excel, Access, or other standard software.

4. Choose response lists over compiled lists.

What’s the difference? A response lists is a mailing list based on purchasing behavior. Addresses on the list are from people who responded to various offers, whether it’s ordering from a direct television commercial or catalog to subscribing to a magazine. It’s a truism in direct marketing that past buying behavior is one of the best predictors of future behavior. There’s a greater statistical liklihood that people on the response list who bought gourmet cookware, for example, will respond to a cookbook offer.

The opposite of a response list is a compiled list. These lists are typically generated on publicly available data, such as telephone books. There’s no indication of what the person may be interested in. Basic demographic data is usually available and is based on appending records such as census data to a compiled list. These may be useful for offers limited to a geographic area and of mass appeal, such as a new auto repair store opening announcement. In that example, the automotive store simply wants addresses from a particular local area and doesn’t much care if the people at the addressses have bought car parts, accessories or other car related items. Chances are pretty good that folks living at the addresses have a car, so the compiled list may be worth using.

Compiled lists generally cost less to rent that response lists.

5. Save nixies.

Nixies aren’t little mythical creatures like fairies or elves. It’s the direct marketer’s lingo for returned mail. Many list companies offer a return policy. The policy varies according to the company, but some with whom I’ve worked have either given back pennies per bad address or a complete refund. Have a policy and system in place at your company to gather and process the returned mail. At the least, you’ll need to correct any house file addresses that are bad; and if you can get a few pennies credit for each returned piece of mail, so much the better.

The next time you need to rent a mailing list, use these considerations. You’ll get a better response, save money, and build your marketing efforts into a money making machine. When in doubt, consult with professional direct marketing experts to help you find and order the best mailing list for the job.

Jeanne Grunert is a well known direct and online marketing expert and the pr

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