Mailing Lists – The Two Kinds of Lists and Two of the Best Places to Purchase Them

In this, the first of this two-part article set, you’ll learn from our discussion the types of mailing lists, and two of the best places to buy lists. In the second part you’ll learn the other 9 places to buy a mailing list.

There are two types of direct mail lists, determined by their origin: compiled direct mail lists and response mailing lists.

Compiled Direct Mail Lists

Compiled mailing lists are a common source of name and address records that have been gathered, collected, and entered into a database. The names may have been acquired through public records such as vehicle owner registrations, court transcripts, or private sources such as warranty cards or purchasers at a store.

The bulk of compiled mailing lists are generated from categories in phone books across the U.S. Examples of a few of the compiled lists available from phone books would be a list of all the photography studios, or a listing of all the luggage dealers in the United States. Or a mailing list of all the plumbing supply dealers, or Chevy or Ford agencies.

Most industries have trade directories that are usually compiled industry data from various sources; most are verified by phone and make pretty good direct mail lists. A directory of pet product manufacturers, or of heating and cooling contractors would be good examples of a compiled industry direct mail lists.

Keep in mind that compiled information – like fish – gets old rather quickly and doesn’t age particularly well. Mailings lists fall into the top of that category – the fresher the names, the better. The older the names, the less accurate – and the greater your returns.

Response Direct Mail lists

Response direct mail lists are usually databases of consumers who have inquired or purchased from a direct response ad, direct mail catalog, from a direct mail offer, direct-selling TV ad, direct response newspaper ad, or other direct response offer. The most common response direct mail lists are from catalog merchants.

Before you consider purchasing any direct mail list, analyze the database of your own customers. Ask yourself precisely what commonalities they have, then look for these characteristics in a new list mailing database.

Start searching for a new mailing list based on your perfect target audience. Find a list that closely matches the definable characteristics of your own customers. If this exact mailing list isn’t available, see how close you can come to buying the most perfect business mail list – and test mail to it in smaller numbers. Measure and track response.

Today’s direct mail can be very precisely targeted due to the precision of the mailing list data available. If you can tightly specify a mailing list, you can probably find a list perfectly matched to your specifications. The more you qualify the names on your mail list, the tighter you specify your perfect mailing list segments, the more response, and the less wasted advertising expense you’ll have in your direct mail campaign. The higher your response, the better your chances of success and profit.

Your selection of a direct mail list has more to do with your success or failure than any other single element in your mailing. Before any mailing, calculate what percent response you need to have to break even, and see if it’s realistic. If it’s over 2%, better rethink about mailing.

The precise targeting of mailing makes direct mail one of the most effective, cost efficient ways to market as long as you define your audience up front and match your direct mail list to your audience.

Delivery of your direct mail depends on the accuracy and recency of your list. Better quality, more recent mailing lists have much better delivery rates. A poor list can mean up to 20% or 30% of your standard mail (bulk-rate) won’t be delivered. 10% more will be delivered, but you won’t know to whom. Of that 20% to 30%, some of your direct mail pieces will be returned to you, beat up beyond recognition by the postal service and certainly of no further value.

Some pieces get delivered, but to the wrong address. Other pieces of your mail just get lost, and no one really knows where they went. In contrast, when you purchase a recent, accurate direct mail list, delivery can be as high as a whopping 95% – 97%!

Some of the best delivery percentages of direct mail mailing lists can be found in magazine publisher’s list of their magazine subscribers.

Magazine mailing lists have some of the highest delivery rates available. For good reason: Subscriber lists are naturally very targeted to their annually-qualified magazine readers. Publishers pay for returns: so their mailing lists have high deliverability rates as publishers are extremely prompt with their name and address corrections.

Most magazine publishers will rent their mailing list for non-competing offers (such as anything other than similar magazines). If you see a magazine that looks like it will be a good target for your direct mail campaign, call the magazine publisher and ask if their subscriber mailing list is for rent. Most larger publications will offer their list through a mailing list broker, so you’ll be referred to that firm.

1. Magazine Publishers Mailing Lists

There are over 10,000 magazines published in the U.S.. Chances are good that you can get a magazine subscription subscriber mail list that goes straight to your perfectly targeted buyers. If you’re not sure what magazines would have the best mail list to reach your target market, there are some easy-to-use magazine directories found in the reference section of most libraries. (They’re online, too – but they’re subscription-only and pretty expensive!) You can read the magazine’s profile and see if their audience would make a good mail list for you to mail offers for your products.

The best directories of magazines are Bacon’s Directory of Magazines, and Oxbridge Communications Standard Periodical Directory. If you can’t find the exact targeted magazine filled with the eager-to-buy-your-product subscribers you are looking for in either of these directories, the publication doesn’t exist. You can find any industry and every single magazine that is sent to that industry – in under 10 minutes in these powerful directories. As a practicing marketer, I pretty much live in these directories.

2. Catalog Merchants Direct Marketing Mailing Lists

Catalog houses earn a good portion of their revenue from the sale of their list. Call the catalog house phone number and ask for their corporate business office, then ask who handles their mailing list sales. Almost all catalog houses sell their mail lists – it’s a big profit center than can account for as much as 20% of their revenues.

Catalogs can be found in The Directory of Mail Order Catalogs from Grey House Publishing ( This directory is an awesome publication and the best resource in the catalog industry. In each catalog description and write up, it gives the number of catalogs mailed, and name of the broker who handles list sales.

This is the first of two articles on mailing lists. In the second part of this article, we’ll discuss the next 9 places to buy a direct mail list.

Bio, Jeffrey Dobkin
If you’re struggling with poor response from your direct marketing campaign, you can s

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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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