How to Choose the Right Direct Mail Mailing List

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My last BiggerPockets post about the fundamentals of direct mail marketing ended up generating some really great discussion about one point in particular: the mailing lists.

Today, I want to follow up on that discussion and break it down a little further, so we can really see the finer points of choosing the right mailing list for your direct mail marketing efforts.

The truth is, your mailing list is arguably the most important aspect of your direct mail campaign. If you mail to prospects who are not interested in or able to take you up on your offers, then you are just wasting your postcards, your time and your money. It is critical that you send your postcards to high-quality prospects for your particular business in order to generate a substantial return on your marketing investment.

 Here are a few things to remember when choosing a mailing list…

 A. Decide Where You Are Getting Your List

There are basically two places you can get a direct mail mailing list.

  1. You make your own comprised of current customers or prospects who have already contacted your business in some way.
  2. You acquire it from a direct mail list provider. Sometimes you will purchase the list, but occasionally you are given it for free as a bonus.

The first one is usually cheapest, but requires some effort on your part, i.e. compiling the list from your own records.

The second, on the other hand, opens up new prospects you have never even approached yet, but usually requires an investment to get it. Your own needs and budget determine which one you go for, but these are the basic sources of the lists themselves.

B. Choose a Mailing List Filled With Prospects Who Are ALREADY Interested In What You Offer

First, you have to get the idea that “marketing is persuasion” out of your head. You aren’t convincing someone to buy from you. You are showing the recipient of your card why you are the best choice in your industry. You know they are already going to be interested in your products or services, because you are going to make sure of it by finding a mailing list filled with prospects who are HIGHLY likely to be looking for what you offer.

You’re not using incredible postcards to sell beer to the Temperance Society. You are finding the Homer Simpsons of the world and selling them beer with effective postcards. Do you see the difference there?

Let’s look at an example from a comment I received on my last post here. If a real estate investor focuses on “flipping houses,” he or she wouldn’t be choosing the same list as someone looking to fund a real estate investment. The house flipper would find a mailing list of people in distressed mortgage situations. Basically, they would be looking for someone with an income that is much lower than the average real estate value in their area. That person is likely struggling to pay the mortgage and will need someone to buy them out to avoid foreclosure.

On the other hand, someone looking for actual investors in real estate needs to mail to prospects with a high income, because they are likely to have the means to invest. It all depends on your goals. Once those are established, it becomes easier to find prospects with needs you can meet. Your direct mail marketing will be immediately compelling to them and yield better results.

Related: Go Where Others Won’t – My Direct Mail Journey

 C. Mailing List Type (You Can Mix and Match or Choose Them All)

1) The House List

These are your own customers and the prospects you have collected yourself. You know they are already interested, because they have responded to your marketing in the past. These are high-quality lists and can generate a LOT of revenue at a small cost (after all, these people already trust you and your services).

However, if you’re marketing to people in distressed situations, you may have to retool the marketing messages you send their way after you’ve closed the deal, since it’s unlikely they’ll find themselves in another distressed situation again and so soon after the last one. Instead, you may have to run a referral campaign or something similar.

2) The Response List

This is a list of prospects who have indicated they are interested in a specified topic or industry in some way. Maybe they purchased similar products or asked to receive marketing materials about a service related to yours. Either way, they are likely to be interested, because they have taken that extra step toward your industry.

Response lists can be purchased from a list broker, magazine or private company. The prospects on the list haven’t responded to you specifically, but they have responded to someone in a related business. That means you know they are at least warmed up to receive your marketing.

3) The Targeted Demographic List

These lists are made up of whoever you want them to be made up of. You select the criteria for the list, and the list provider fills it with matching prospects. Some common criteria used to target high-quality prospects include age, sex, geographic location, income level and number of children present in the home. These are fixed, mostly physical characteristics as opposed to the more behavioral characteristics that are targeted with a response list.

4) The Opt-In List

This is a list made up entirely of prospects who have ASKED to be mailed to with marketing materials. They are looking to be wooed, if you will. As you might have guessed, these lists can be pretty pricey, but they also generally have incredible ROI (Return on Investment). You get these lists from a list broker as well.

5) The Segmented List

This list targets prospects based on criteria, but it goes WAY beyond standard demographics. It is a highly systemized list that breaks prospects down to specific criteria like spending and saving habits, reading preferences, vacation/travel patterns, etc. It’s pretty crazy stuff!

You can analyze your own customers by these criteria (as well as location and demographics), then compile a list of only prospects that fit your optimal criteria, i.e. the mold created by your own customers. This is a very rare service, and those who are able to offer it are really not at liberty to tell who else does. It might seem self-serving, but my own company is the only one I am allowed to tell you about. We are one of the few businesses who does offer these great lists. The price can vary from the very expensive to more reasonable. The company who created the technology for these lists won’t allow us to print who they are, but we’d be glad to tell you if you call our office and ask about them.

Your mailing list has the biggest affect on your direct mail marketing results. Getting the right one turns mediocre campaigns into extraordinary campaigns. Be sure to invest some time and research into getting your mailing list right. I hope this post helps clear up what you should be looking for in your next mailing list. Happy marketing!

Photo: Éole

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About Author

Joy Gendusa (G+) is the founder and CEO of PostcardMania, a firm that specializes in direct mail marketing, and the author of the 95-Step Total Marketing Checklist. She used postcards to grow PostcardMania from almost nothing—just a computer—to a $20 million enterprise in less than a decade.

8 Comments

  1. Sharon Vornholt

    Nice post Joy.

    No direct mail campaign will be effective without the right list. It has to be in alignment with your desired outcome. Thanks for the valuable information in this article. It’s great to see you here.

    Sharon

  2. Great post, Joy! Loved it. I think many go wrong right at the first step of direct mail marketing- choosing the right recipients. A lot of thought an care needs to be put into it before it’s ready. Definitely not something you can just do in a hurry.

  3. Brigida, I completely agree! We meticulously craft our lists, and I know our campaigns are all the better for it. I hope you’ve had the same experience and gotten great results from picking the right list!

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