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 president of Seven Oaks Consulting. For 20 years, she led marketing departments in the retail, financial services, and publishing industries. She h

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Mailing Lists – 9 More Places to Buy a Direct Mail List

1. Trade Associations Mailing Lists

Trade Associations are unusually excellent sources of mailing lists. Better associations always include the industry’s top major players. Local associations like the local Chamber of Commerce in your area are usually good for a mailing list of local business names. You can select your direct mail list criteria by business size, number of employees, SIC code (the government’s industry classification of each business), or any of a multitude of other selection parameters.

Two great sources for finding associations are reference books from ColumbiaHouse Books, Inc., publishers of the State and Regional Associations Directory and The National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States. Mailing lists of the associations are available on labels or download.

Association mailing lists and data are also available in the giant reference Encyclopedia of Associations by The Gale Group on disk, CD, and on-line through Lexis-Nexis. This hard bound, three-volume set is the mother load of associations – showing detailed information on more than 23,000 local, state, national, and international associations. If you need a direct mail list from an association, if you can’t find the association name, address and phone in here, you can’t find it.

2. Mailing List Resources: List Reference Tools

Two excellent resources for investigating lists at the library are the SRDS Direct Marketing List Source(TM) and the Oxbridge Communications National Directory of Mailing Lists. We use both of these huge directories of lists in our own office – they’re thorough and easy to use. These reference tools are each about the size of the Manhattan phone book and contain nothing but mailing list data: who owns what mail list, number of records in each, source of names and direct mail list pricing. Both tools are available in major libraries.

3. Mailing List Brokers

Mailing list brokers are found in phone books in every major city. They can be heaven, supplying incredible information, or hell, looking for that fast buck. Make sure you ask tons of questions before handing over any money (Please see the article “12 questions to ask a mailing list vendor,” at and at While you pay for the list, the broker actually works independently for the list owner – so take that into consideration when you ask questions and negotiate price. The broker makes a commission on each list sale, and generally sells a variety of lists for multiple companies. A list agent works exclusively for the firm that sells the list.

A plethora of list managers and direct mail lists owners can be found in the direct mail trade magazines such as Multichannel Merchant Magazine: Target Marketing, and DM News.

4. Catalogs of Mailing Lists

Some list brokers are huge and have their own catalog of mailing lists. Some of these direct mail list catalogs are over 100 pages long! Some direct mail list catalogs are handy reference tools that will give you an idea of just what’s out there – what kind of lists are available and counts of how many records exist in the thousands of different mailing list categories. Please see the full article on mailing lists titled, “Free Catalogs of Mailing Lists,” at

Want to know how many dentists there are? It’s a piece of cake: 190,168 are members of the ADA. Want to know if there is a mailing list of picky ale drinkers? Find the mailing list of “Ale in the Mail-Continuity Members:” 70,973 of them. Selling an accounting product? Try the mailing list from the Accounting Institute Seminar Attendees – all 78,634 of them. Looking for college professors? Did you want the 43,347 who teach English, or the 18,184 who teach history, or the 8,477 in marketing, or the 9,194 philosophy teachers, or the…

If you need additional information – like how many doctors who specialize in allergies and are the head of their practice with four or more employees can be found in Pennsylvania – call any of these catalog houses and ask them to run a mailing list count with those parameters. You’ll be able to get that information in about ten minutes. Hugo Dunhill, American Business Lists, and Edith Roman to name just a few. Phone numbers for mailing list brokers can be found in the books Uncommon Marketing Techniques and How To Market A Product For Under $500!

5. Lists on CD

Several companies now offer lists of every business or every person in the U.S. on CD-ROM. These products allow you to create your own list criteria and generate your own precisely targeted direct mail lists. Some of the better programs make it easy and fast to use their CD-ROM products.

6. Internet

One of the best resources for lists is the Internet. There’s no getting around it now, the Internet is here to stay — you might as well get used to it. It’s a great – probably the best – research tool available for almost anything, if you can filter out the crap from the good stuff. But… isn’t that the way with all research tools: you gotta figure out which is the good stuff that you can use, and which is the bad stuff that you’ve just spent the last two hours looking over and have now figured out is pretty worthless. Yea, the Internet is like that – in spades.

7. Trade Shows Mailing Lists

Trade shows are great marketing events, and trade show lists are also great marketing tools. You can usually buy mailing lists of both attendees and of exhibitors. Check out two great websites: one is and the other for trade show information. The Tradeshow Week Data Book is a great tool published by the editors of Tradeshow Week Magazine.

8. The Enemy

You’d be surprised how many of your competitors will sell your their customers’ names to mail to. If not competitors, how about asking other businesses who serve your market if you can purchase their mailing lists. Warranty lists and data, registrations, some firms just seem to warehouse data that would make a great direct mail list to someone.

9. House List

Of course, the best list of all – bar none – is your own direct marketing list of current and past customers. These are the folks that know you and trust you; they’ve experienced that great customer service you offer and are now willing to buy something else from you if you would only let them know it’s available. Spend some extra time in this most important area – of list research: tighten your list criteria, do your homework, spend time in research, and find the best mail lists you can possibly find. Then test several.

Selecting a direct mail list isn’t as rewarding as generating the creative for a new glitzy 4-color brochure, or an exciting mailing package. But it shows up where it counts the most – in your bottom line. The better your direct mail list, the better your response. Guaranteed.

It’s worth the extra time and money to target your audience with precision and increase the chance you’ll come up a winner at the post office. There is no single more important factor in creating a greater response to a mailing than mailing to the best possible list. Whatever you do, don’t settle for a mediocre list unless you want mediocre results. The better the list, the greater the response.

Bio, Jeffrey Dobkin

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