Well-chosen lists are key to profitable direct-mail advertising. Most observers agree that the list is as important to a mailing’s success as the offer— and far outweighs the impact of copy, graphics, and all other bells and whistles. Yet, according to nationally respected marketing consultant Jeffrey Dobkin, many advertisers do not pay more than cursory attention to list selection. He offers this advice:
Compiled lists are composed of names and other records that have been amassed into a database. The names may come from public records…professional directories… telephone books...or similar sources. Dobkin cautions that compiled lists—like fish—do not age especially well. Their information quickly grows obsolete.
Response lists are behavior-based. They identify individuals who actually have answered advertisements or made purchases.
Subscriber lists often produce excellent mailing results, Dobkin says. They are targeted to specific audiences, and publishers are usually prompt with their name-and-address corrections. Phone the publishers of magazines whose audience profiles interest you, Dobkin advises, to find out if their subscriber lists are for rent, and the names of their list brokers. The names, addresses, and phone numbers of list brokers, he says, can be found in the telephone directories of major cities. Some list brokers publish their own catalogs of mailing lists, either in print or on the Web. These handy reference tools will tell you what kinds of lists the broker handles and how many records exist in thousands of different list categories. Brokers can be heaven or hell, Dobkins adds. They can supply the advertiser with precious information—or can be fast-buck artists. Remember, Dobkin adds—you pay the broker, but he works for the list owner. So take those facts into consideration when you ask questions or negotiate prices. “Make sure you ask tons of questions before handing over any money,” he advises.
The best list of all—bar none—is your own house file of current and past customers. “These are the folks that know you and trust you,” Dobkin notes. The effort of doing the spadework of keeping your company’s customer database in shape will pay off handsomely, he says. You may be surprised to discover that many of your competitors are willing to rent you their house-file names. So ask other businesses in your market if you can rent their house-file names, or swap them for your own.
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