In past articles I’ve made the case for why direct mail is still an effective part of the marketing mix (see Is Direct Mail Dead?) and talked about things you can do to Increase the Effectiveness of Your Direct Mail. Today I’d like to address another important aspect of a successful direct mail program: the mailing list.
There’s a rule of thumb that states that 70% of the success of a direct mail program depends on the list, 20% on the offer, and 10% on the creative (i.e. the text and design). So if you’re going to be purchasing a list for a prospect mailing, you really need to do your homework to be sure that the list you buy is a good one for you.
To increase your chances of success, here’s what you need to do:
■ Define your target – The first step is to determine exactly who you are trying to reach. Do you need a list of female college graduates between the ages of 28 and 40 who make over $100,000 per year, or a list of automotive middle managers in Idaho?
Keep in mind that you can get pretty specific when buying mailing lists – which is good, because irrelevant names not only decrease your overall response rate, they can also get very expensive. In addition to the cost of purchasing the irrelevant names, you need to consider the costs of printing and postage as well.
■ List your desired data fields – Exactly what information do you want your list to contain? For example, beyond name and mailing address, it may also be important to you that the list includes each person’s title, email address, phone number, annual income and industry.
■ Get a referral to a good list broker – Ask your colleagues and/or vendors to see who they recommend.
■ Be very specific about what you want – When you contact the list broker, provide as much information as possible about the information you want to purchase.
■ Find out exactly what you will get – How much of the requested information will actually be in the purchased list? If you want a list that includes each person’s title, for example, will the list include titles for everyone, or will the “title” field blank be for 60% of the names? What other fields are available? And once you buy the list will you own the list, or are you only paying for a one-time use?
■ Ask some important questions about the data – You want to know:
○ Where does the data come from? To judge the quality of the data it’s good to know its source. Did the list company get the data from public records, warranty registration forms, opt-in lists, other company’s customer lists, or what?
○ How often is the list updated? You want to know how often it is updated from the data source, and how often it is checked against the NCOA (National Change of Address) list.
○ Is the list also checked against a national opt-out list? For example, the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service lets consumers opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail.
■ Ask for a sample of the data – Ideally you want to get a look at the quality and completeness of the list you will be purchasing. Eyeball the sample list. Does it include all of the information that you asked for? Are half the fields empty? Is the data properly formatted and filled with valid-looking information? For example, last year I requested a sample of a list with email addresses. Half of the names on the sample list were missing the email address, and many of the rest did not end in a domain name.
■ Do a small test – If possible, you might want to do a test mailing to the names on your sample list, to see if the list is actually hitting your target. I once asked for a list of consumers who had recently purchased a motorcycle. Our test mailing showed that the list was actually of people who had purchased a motorcycle at any point in time – including those who purchased it 15 years ago and then sold it in 2002.
■ De-dupe the list against your own database – If you’re going to be mailing to both the purchased list and your own internal database, be sure to remove duplicates. There’s no need to send multiple packages to the same person!
MacKenzie Corporation can help…
What has been your company’s experience with buying a mailing list? What’s worked for you, and what hasn’t?Share your comments below.