Direct Mail Basics: The Mailing List

The basic foundation of any direct mail campaign is the mailing list.  Who will receive the materials you’re sending?  Are you hoping to reach out to past customers, offer special deals to current ones, or let more people know about your product or services?  Choose a mailing list that reflects the goals of your strategy- if you’re offering a discount to loyal customers or launching a special promotion, you can use your current customer database information.  If you’re mailing materials for new customers or to advertise products to those who aren’t familiar with your business, you may want to consider purchasing a list from a list broker.

Purchasing a List

A quick search for “mailing list vendors” can turn up literally hundreds of results.  How do you make sure you’re getting accurate, useful information?  Quality mailing lists are thorough (contain full names, addresses, zip codes, possibly email addresses, etc.) up-to-date, and targeted.  While it’s easy to send a mailer to every house on a street, targeting your effort based on market research allows you to reap a higher return on your investment.  For example, if you manage a high-end children’s clothing boutique, you’ll get the best results by mailing to families with school-age children, moms-to-be, or shoppers who’ve purchased children’s clothes recently (grandparents, relatives, etc.) who live in certain geographic areas.  Targeting your mailing starts with the list you choose- here’s how to make sure you choose wisely:

  • How is the list compiled?  Mailing list companies compile lists in two ways.  Response Lists are generated using customer responses to advertisements (“click here for more information about children’s boutiques in your area”) while Compiled Lists are often collected using data from other similar businesses.  For example, households that subscribe to specific magazines are likely to be interested in certain products- list brokers use subscription mailing information to compile a mailing list.  Both types of lists can be successful, though Response Lists are generally able to generate more reliable results.
  • Who else uses the list?  It’s a good idea to ask a mailing services vendor who else has purchased a certain list within the last six months.  Call these companies, and ask how well the list worked in their mailing campaign.  Is their product or mailing strategy similar to yours?  Be sure to consider geographic differences, product offerings, and other factors that might make the list a better (or worse!) fit for your strategy.
  • Is the list current?  Ask the list vendor how frequently information is updated, or how recently addresses were obtained if using a list generated by customer ad responses.  Older lists tend to have outdated information, and are less effective when used for mailing campaigns. 

Mailing list costs vary depending on quality.  The newer and more targeted the information, the more expensive the list will be.  Brokers can charge between $100 to $500 for a list of up to 1,000 names.  Exclusive lists, targeted data, and filtered results will cost more.

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