Testing Mailing Lists

  • Your mailing list can generate more than 40% of your total responses to a mailing, according to the Direct Marketing Association. The best offer in the world— if not aimed at the right people—will fail. To find the best type of list to rent, look at the characteristics of the customers who make up your own in-house mailing file— and build outside lists accordingly. There are more than 50,000 lists out there, available from a wide variety of sources. The main types are compiled lists, response lists, paid subscription lists, and controlled lists. Choosing the right one potentially can make or break your campaign:

  • Compiled lists are assembled from a variety of directories, credit files, and other sources. They are generated for marketing purposes, updated regularly, and give broad coverage of the market, including basic demographics. Many compiled lists are updated two or three times a month—important, because direct mailers can improve their response rates significantly by using recently updated lists.

  • Response lists are generated from company sales records. They may include information about what product was purchased, how and when it was bought, its price, transaction frequency—all valuable marketing information. However, response lists are often less complete and may not indicate the purchaser’s name and title. In addition, response lists may not be updated as frequently as other types of lists.

  • Paid-subscription lists offer the advantage of showing recipients who have subscribed to specific publications, thereby demonstrating their interest in a given industry or product area. Paid subscription lists tend to present fewer change-of-address problems than other lists and provide a relatively targeted audience. On the other hand, they may not provide complete demographics.

  • Controlled-circulation lists derive from free magazine subscriptions that publishers offer to qualified subscribers who agree to provide detailed demographic information about their companies and purchasing authority and practices. As a rule, controlled-circulation lists are highly niche-oriented. They offer rich demographic information and are highly selectable. However, they usually are limited in size, thus may cover only a small part of your entire target market. Next Wednesday—what to test after your list, and how.

Test various offers

The second most influential factor in determining your success in direct mail is your offer—what you will give people for responding. Some tips:

  • Make your offer as specific as possible

  • Offer something enticing to your market

  • Stress that your offer is risk-free

  • Incorporate a “limited-time trial” or “money-back guarantee”

  • Be clear about when recipients must respond. Do not pressure prospects with too short a deadline, but don’t leave it open-ended. Generally, four to six weeks to respond works well.

  • Know the difference between product features and benefits Features are inherent to the product, while benefits relate the feature to a customer need.

  • Tie your offer to your main benefit. For example, “Act now and save thousands of dollars on direct-mailing costs.” Some offer elements worth testing include price points, quantity of volume discounts, the way you state your offer (e.g., “save 50 percent” versus “purchase for half price”), and the response method.

Experiment with your mail package

Begin with the outside of your package. The key is to “make your pitch before the door is slammed in your face,” as old-time salesmen used to urge. The average person spends three to five seconds deciding whether to open your direct mail piece, so start selling immediately. Test various package formats (e.g., postcard, letter, self-mailer, etc.) and the use of stamps versus indicia. Even the use of stamps with different designs could produce a noticeable lift in response.

Test the inside of the mail package also:

  • Use a strong lead. Recipients will likely scan the letter before deciding whether to read it. State your offer at the beginning of your letter. Clarify what you want the recipient to do and why he or she should do it.

  • Appeal to the recipient’s problems and promise to ease their stress.

  • Back up your claims with guarantees and testimonials.

  • Make it easy to respond. Close with a call to action and include a vehicle to do so (e.g. coupon, response card, 1-800 number, etc.).

  • Test different letter styles, graphic elements, and techniques.

See also:

Mailing Lists

Direct Mail


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