List selection determines 60% to 80% of the success—or failure—of a direct mailing, according to veteran New York marketing consultant Lee Marc Stein, who urges mail advertisers to assign top priority to list choice. “Start with the list,” Stein advises. First, he says, identify your recipients. Only then, put together a mailing package designed to appeal specifically to them.
Many businesses—to their considerable cost—neglect to learn what the various kinds of mailing lists are, and the results they can expect from them:
Compiled lists are relatively inexpensive to rent. Their owners assemble them from publicly available sources such as phone and city directories and trade-group membership lists. While compiled lists may be accurate as far as they go, they do not offer the advertiser any information concerning actual buying histories.
Response lists are considerably more costly to rent than compiled lists—and, in the opinion of most mail marketers, are well worth it.
Response lists usually generate higher response than compiled lists, undoubtedly because they are based on the demonstrated behavior of the individuals whose names and addresses they include.
That behavior may be indirect. For instance, the advertiser may infer that a current subscriber to a fly-fishing magazine is likely to be a good prospect to buy a fly-tying kit—an assumption that may or may not be correct, but is at least based on some history. On the other hand, some lists are based on direct behavior—for example, actual recent purchases of fly-tying material. They minimize guesswork by the advertiser. The advertiser knows that people on such lists are not only interested in a given area, but are actively in the market for products associated with it.
Permission mailing lists are composed of individuals who have agreed—perhaps in exchange for a free service or other offer—that they would welcome hearing from an advertiser. Results so far from permission lists—a fairly new wrinkle in direct marketing—seem highly promising. They are relatively costly and time-consuming to create, but many marketing experts think that they are the wave of the future.
A house list of a company’s own customers may be its secret marketing weapon. It costs little or nothing to maintain—and can generate more than twice the responses of the average outside list. Stein thinks that direct mail can help virtually every type of business. However, it represents a major investment. So it just makes sense to select mailing lists wisely.
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