In direct mail marketing, the mailing list is everything. After all, if the message doesn’t get into the right hands, all of your time and money and effort is a total waste—and who would deliberately waste an opportunity to get a timely and well-designed piece of mail with an irresistible offer into your ideal customer’s mailbox?

So, just get a list of the right people . . . right? Yes, but it’s not *quite* that simple—it’s also not rocket science, thankfully. There’s a lot to think about, strategically speaking, so here’s an overview of the critical steps to take to acquire the right direct mail marketing lists to grow your business.

What lists do you have, and what lists do you need?

The first task to accomplish when trying to get your arms around your mailing lists is understanding what you have in-hand, and what you need to acquire. Bear in mind that even if what you have in-hand is outdated or incomplete, there’s a lot that can be done to whip your owned lists into shape. Related to that, you may think it would seem almost impossible to find a targeted list of your ideal customers, but through the magic of some pretty sophisticated technology, you can get pretty much anything these days. So, I want you to go into this list-building project with a real sense of optimism. You can do this.

A few questions as we get started:

Is this a Business-to-Business (B2B) or Business-to-Consumer (B2C) marketing interaction? This is one of the first questions you will be asked if you are working with a list service or reseller, or through a user interface online when making selections for a compiled list. Business addresses are very different from consumer addresses, and depending upon the business you’re in, the answer could be “both.” There’s no right answer. You just need to be ready with a response.

How do you plan to reach your audience? If you’re sending mail, some thought must go into *how* you plan to reach your customers or prospects. Not surprisingly, the approach you choose will lead you directly to the kind of list you need.

Saturation mail — Saturation mail is a mailing method where the marketer sends a piece of mail to between 75% and 100% of all residential and business addresses in a geographic area, which could be a city, a ZIP Code, or even a neighborhood or mail route. Saturation mail also usually gets the lowest possible bulk mailing rates (averaging 20%–30% in postal savings). This type of mail is sent with the understanding that the offer will not be relevant to the entire mailing audience, but it is highly effective for businesses that want to drive awareness and word-of-mouth within their surrounding area.

Saturation mail is commonly sent to a mailing list, however the USPS Every Door Direct Mail™ (EDDM) program allows the delivery of USPS Flat-sized mail to every mailbox within specified carrier routes without a mailing list. Want to try an EDDM campaign? It’s easy! You can generate your EDDM list and all of the postal paperwork directly out of AccuZIP6. You can also do this online on a Pay-Per-Use basis—click here to try it out.

Targeted Saturation Mail – Targeted saturation works on the same principle of saturation mail, where a geographic area is covered, however it applies an additional simple filter or two. With saturation mail, you can send a mailpiece to every household within a certain radius, or with targeted saturation, you can send a mailpiece to all households within a certain radius whose inhabitants are 55 or older.

Mass Mail – A mass mailing, or “spray and pray” as it is affectionately nicknamed in the marketing community, is when everyone in a large list is sent the exact same piece of mail. Mass mail is often utilized because it’s easy and it doesn’t require the use of additional technology, however if you consider that a large portion of the job cost is being spent on printing and mailing material that may not resonate with the recipient, you might want to consider using that money to leverage effective marketing technologies instead.

Targeted Mail – Targeted mail tailors to the interests and needs of the recipient with a customized marketing message. What makes targeted mail work is that it engages the recipient with individualized content.

Batch Targeted – a technique used to break down your target market into more manageable segments by changing message and imagery to appeal to a certain segment of your audience. In its simplest form, think of one mailer that features imagery of a family when mailed to families, and an image of an elderly couple when mailer to seniors.

Personalized Targeted – You could also take your custom targeted mailpiece and personalize it for each individual customer by integrating the customers’ names into the marketing copy and by including a personalized landing page, or a personalized variable map from their home to your store.

Micro-Targeted – Micro-targeting is using advanced data collection and analysis to enhance a database and create pinpoint research about your mail recipients. This highly-sophisticated marketing technique combines market segmentation data with commercial data, like purchases, subscriptions and affiliations to make truly one-to-one marketing communications.

As you can see, there’s a huge difference between the kind of list or level of detail you would need if you’re sending a saturation mail campaign versus a targeted personalized mail campaign. We’re working our way through to get you the right list for the right task. See where we’re going? So, now let’s look at the kinds of lists you’ll be working with.

The 2 List Types: In-house Lists and Third-Party Prospect Lists

As a marketer, there are two kinds of mail marketing lists you should be nurturing—your own in-house mailing lists and your third-party prospect lists. Within these two categories, you may start out with just one list in each category, or you may already have many in-house and third-party prospect lists that are segmented for different marketing goals. Wherever you sit on the scale, it’s important to note that both types of lists play an important role in staying top-of-mind and maintaining relationships with existing customers, and in finding new customers to grow your business.

In-House Lists:

Your in-house (owned) lists should consist of current customers, former customers, and people who have expressed interest in your company, possibly through a web form or email, phone calls, free trials, or other sales nurturing efforts. These are names you own, and people who have opened the door to communicating with them. You can separate these lists by type, and by where they are in the sales pipeline so that all communications are relevant to each group.

Third-Party Prospect Lists:

Prospect lists are lists of prospective customers and these lists come in two flavors: response lists and compiled lists. Industry standard deliverability is 95–98% for saturation lists, 94–95% for consumer lists and 90% for business lists.

Response Lists – response prospect lists are made up of people who have a proven interest or need in your category. Interest can mean lots of things:

  • Buyers: the list proven buyers of products or services
  • Associations: professional or trade membership organizations, trade show attendees
  • Subscribers: Magazine/newsletter subscribers, continuity subscriptions for services or deliveries

These types of lists tend to be available for rent by list managers (who own and manage their own lists) or by list brokers who leverage their network and find the best list for you. Response list pricing varies, but it will definitely be more expensive than compiled lists because they have higher average response rates, and are proven lists with valuable detail that is not available through public resources. You will also likely pay a commission/mark-up for lists found for you by brokers, because they’re providing a valuable service.

Third-Party Compiled Lists:
Ideally, compiled lists would include people who share the demographics of your best customers (age, income, geography, etc.), with the idea being that you can find “customer clones” so-to-speak, who may have the same need or problem, but who have not acted on it or possibly even realized it yet.

Compiled lists are a collection of names from a third party, such as directories, public records, professional licenses, warranty and product registrations, surveys, etc. List compilers combine data from multiple sources and pull it into a list based on your demographic requirements.

One of my favorite list compilers is AccuZIP. They specialize in direct mail marketing lists and direct mail software, so all of their lists are automatically run through a series of rigorous data quality filters on their cutting-edge software platform (CASS, NCOA, DPV, Vacancy Flag, De-Dupe, etc., etc.) to ensure that the list is not only as current as possible, but also maximally deliverable, accurate, and 100% USPS compliant. They also offer one flat price of .03 per consumer or business address, with no minimum order quantity. Full disclosure, AccuZIP is a Foldfactory sponsor, but I accept their sponsorship because I believe in their products. There are no affiliate links in this post.

Finding Your Audience, The Easy Way:

When you’re trying to identify your ideal customer so you can rent a list, there are lots of categories you’ll be asked to consider.

The best thing to do is to think about these categories and identify which ones are important ahead of time. I wouldn’t recommend clicking and unclicking a series of selections on the fly while you’re ordering a compiled list online or reciting a bunch of qualifiers off the top of your head when you’re on the phone with a list broker. Finding your perfect customer takes thought. Here are some of the segmentation categories to consider:

Geographic – Geographic segmentation is based on location, such as city, county, ZIP code or neighborhood.

Demographic/Firmographic – Demographic segmentation is based on measurable statistics, such as age, gender, income, ethnicity, marital status, etc. Other general consumer demographic categories can be: new movers, renters, new homeowners, and new parents, for example.

Firmographics are to business what demographics are to people. If you’re renting a business list, you’ll want to consider industry (get the NAICS industry codes here), company size, legal status, performance – growth, profits/losses, location, revenue.

Psychographic – Psychographic segmentation is a bit more advanced, using the science of psychology and demographics to better understand the consumer. This form of segmentation enhances demographic information by adding filters based on lifestyle, personality and values—such as being urban dwellers or pet lovers.

Sales Stage – Marketers can also segment their mailing lists based upon what stage their customer is in the sales pipeline, as different sales stages generally require different marketing messages.

Need some time to think it over? Here’s a great tool to help you find your mailing audience:

Free Downloadable Checklist: “Find Your Mailing Audience” DOWNLOAD NOW

Using Specialized Lists

You may find that your ideal audience is in a more specific category—one that may only be available through different, more exclusive channels. Specialty lists and response lists as we’ve learned, can be very powerful, because they’re more focused than more general segmentation methods. You may need a list broker or list manager to get to the specialty list you’re looking for, but here are some consumer and business specialty list examples:

Specialty Consumer Lists:
Charitable Donor Lists
Parents of School-Aged Children Lists
Bankruptcy Mailing Lists
Magazine Subscribers
Continuity subscriptions for services or deliveries
Proven buyers of products or services
Warranty and product registrations

Specialty Business Lists:
Business Professionals by Category – Medical Professionals, Hair Stylists, CMOs, etc.
Trade Event Attendees
Trade Association Members
Trade Magazine Subscribers

OK, now that you know who you’re looking for, it’s time for us to have “the money talk.”

What will your mailing list cost?

If you need to acquire a list, you can rent a list for single or multiple uses. Purchasing a list is sometimes an option, but buying a list outright is pretty rare. Most marketers rent. Renting a list for a one-time use is generally a recipe for disappointment, though. Mail is a relationship, and response rates on a one-time mailing to a new prospect list are almost guaranteed to diasappoint. So, just know that multiple mailings are the key. Some marketers test a portion of a list before renting—for many, it depends upon how much time you have and the size of the investment.

Prepayment is customary in the list business and managed lists generally require a minimum quantity of at least a few thousand names. Some (not all) compiled lists have a dollar-figure minimum (ex: $100 minimum order), and some charge per address. If you rent a list (compiled or response), you won’t own the names, but you will own the names of anyone who responds to your mailing. Bear in mind that rented (per use) lists are often seeded with a few names to monitor its usage. Pro Tip #1: always include your own name on your mailing list to receive your mail through the eyes of a customer.

Pro Tip #2: Track your mail campaigns using the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB) plus a mail tracking/reporting tool (ex: AccuTrace) to see exactly when your mail pieces arrive at the mailbox, so you can know when to expect those responses!

Mailing list pricing is usually based on cost per thousand names (CPM), however some companies charge per address. On average, you can expect to pay around $20–$30 per thousand for saturation lists, $30–$200 per thousand (3–20 cents per name) for compiled consumer and business lists, and around $150–$350 per thousand (15–35 cents per name) for specialized lists. For example, targeted business lists featuring names instead of just generic titles (like “Creative Director”), and proven response lists will be at the higher end of the cost spectrum.

Need more than just names and addresses? Not all list services are “on the menu.” Pro Tip #3: Ask your list provider for a custom quote to append phone numbers, email addresses, and other useful demographic data elements (renter/owner, occupation, hobbies, etc.) to make your lists more complete and more segmented. For instance, I know that AccuZIP can pull from over 2,500 demographic elements to add depth and detail to your lists.

Ready to get your list?

OK, I’ve given you a lot to think about. Remember that the way to get to your best list is to know who your ideal customer is, and strategically how you’re going to reach them. Spend the bulk of your time thinking about the demographics and other characteristics of your audience. Write it down in detail so that you’re not trying to recall these details on the fly when you’re ordering your list.

Next, think about how many names you want and set aside your budget. Then, explore your potential list sources and . . . go for it! If you don’t know where to start, visit AccuZIP for targeted mailing lists and mailing software.

Finally, don’t forget to download your Free Downloadable Checklist: “Find Your Mailing Audience” DOWNLOAD NOW.