Direct-Mail list can make or break your marketing campaign. Here’s how to find the best for your business

Do you know the most important element of a successful direct-mail campaign? It’s not the copy. It’s not the artwork. It’s not whether you send a newsletter, postcard or brochure. It’s the mailing list.
This is truer today than ever–with today’s technology, the availability of quality direct-mail lists has vastly improved. In the 1980s, trying to find a good direct-mail list outside of one’s own database was very difficult. Direct-mail lists had a bad reputation. Addresses were often inaccurate, and the data was suspect. There was no cost-effect way to compare names on multiple lists, so consumers were often pestered with duplicate mailings, which skewed tabulated results and wasted budgets.
Today, data can be sliced and diced at lightening speeds and updated just as quickly. Information is linked with other sources and finely sifted until you know as much, if not more, than the person’s best friend. As a consumer, that makes me uneasy, but as a marketer, I jump with joy.
Although the process is far from perfect, today’s specialized technology means consumers are more likely to receive advertising mail of interest to them. It also makes it possible for even the smallest business to create a market and compete successfully.
Having said this, I would like to emphasize that your best list is and will always be your internal database or “house” list of customers or prospects. According to American List Counsel, a mailing list manager and broker, your house list will typically bring double the response of an outside list. Yet, only 50 percent of business marketers surveyed use customer or prospect names for mailing purposes. Don’t make this same mistake. It’s where you should start before talking to anyone about buying a list.
Simply put, a homeowner in your area who recently subscribed to a home decorating magazine is a more likely target for custom framing than an apartment dweller who subscribes to an auto repair magazine. And a homeowner who has bought art in the past three to six months is even better. Response lists can be that specific.
Price Your Options
The vast majority of marketing lists are supplied on a one-time rental basis. This means that the owner allows the renter to use the list once in return for a fee, typically expressed on a per-thousand-record basis. You can also rent lists for multiple uses. For example, a list broker might double the base price but allow you to use the list three times.
Most list companies have minimums (usually 1,000 to 5,000 names), so ask up front. Also, the more filters you use, the more expensive the list. Additional costs are incurred as you add selections, such as income, age, length of residence, new movers, recent purchases, etc.
Compiled lists are generally less expensive than response lists, costing between $30 and $60 per thousand versus $80 to $100 per thousand for response lists.
Track Results
Every mailing is a learning opportunity. By keeping track of results, you will be much better informed to make future marketing decisions. You want to know who responded, which respondents purchased and the value of their purchase. Again, technology comes to the rescue.
A simple spreadsheet can help track results so you can accurately calculate your return on investment, which should be significant if you did your homework and found the right list.

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