Selecting the right mailing list is the key to a successful direct mail campaign. Getting an offer or a call-to-action delivered to the right audience is critical to the success of a direct mail communication. Unfortunately, the most common mistake marketers make in direct mail campaigns is not selecting the right mailing list.

Budget dollars are wasted on producing and sending out mail if it never reaches its intended target. An attractively designed direct mail piece with a great offer means nothing if it is sent to people that have no interest in the offer. Picking the right list starts with understanding the types of available lists.

They all basically fall into two general categories:

  • A house list is an organization’s internal list of active and former customers, members, or employees.
  • Purchased lists are available from many sources and can be rented or owned. These lists are customized to fit characteristics of the target audience. There are several different types of purchased lists ranging in cost and appropriateness for reaching an audience, but key types include:
    • A specialty list targeting a select audience (e.g. new parents, health enthusiasts, accountants, IT professionals, Fortune 1000 companies)
    • A custom mailing list based on select customer criteria
    • A cloned list that finds customers similar to an organization’s best customers

The quality of a list is of paramount importance. The correct mailing list will contain your most valuable prospects. The more careful you are in analyzing and selecting direct mailing lists, the better your chances for success.

A good mailing list has a few important characteristics:

  • It is updated on a regular basis. Lists need to be cleaned or “scrubbed” to remove duplicate entries, undeliverable addresses, or names on do-not-mail lists. They must be kept up to date, and this means adding, updating, and deleting entries on an ongoing basis.
  • It focuses on the market segments and or geographic coverage that you need.
  • It is formatted to comply with the latest postal regulations, and comes in a form you can use.

Let’s put the importance of maintaining list quality into perspective with an example. Each year, over 40 million Americans change their addresses. Updating mailing lists reduces the volume of undeliverable mail. The United States Postal Service (USPS) formally calls this type of mail Undeliverable-as-Addressed (UAA) and has mechanisms in place to reduce it. Not updating lists can result in the forfeit of postal discounts.

Here is list of questions to ask when evaluating a mailing list.

  • What sources are being used to create the list—where do the names come from?
  • Are new names continually added? How often is the list updated? And when was it last updated?
  • What demographic selections are available?
  • Have other mailers used the list recently? If so, what for?
  • Will the provider suppress your client database against their list? (You don’t want to purchase list full of your existing clients.)
  • What are the terms and costs for one-time use and multiple uses?

There are four main sources for purchasing or renting mailing lists. A good provider will work with you to identify your target market and select the lists best aligned with your strategies and goals. Here is a description of list providers:

  • A list broker’s primary role is to rent lists from other companies. Usually, a list broker researches what lists and segments will work best for what you’re trying to accomplish.
  • List managers supervise and promote the rental of specific mailing lists that they manage. Before giving approval to rent the list, they typically ask the prospective list renter to provide a copy of their direct mail piece for review. The list manager may decline renting the list if the piece is too competitive with the list owner’s own offer, or it might offend the list owner’s customers.
  • List compilers manage lists that they’ve assembled using multiple sources, such as warranty cards, government records, corporate reports, telephone directories, Yellow Pages, credit bureaus, etc.
  • A list manager/broker is typically the most versatile source for renting lists because they offer their own lists and those created by others.

Your mailing list can make or break your direct mail campaign. It’s important to invest the time upfront to select the best list. Mailing to quality prospects leads to higher conversion rates and more revenue for your company.