Mailing lists: worth their weight in gold

Apr 30, 2008

TO KEEP your business going and growing, you need to look outside your own customers and clients for more prospects or potential buyers from time to time. In these circumstances it is common practice to acquire mailing lists of potential buyers.

The right mailing list can be worth a small fortune if it puts your message into the hands, the eyes and the minds of enough of the right prospects for your product, service or expertise.

The wrong mailing list is a recipe for spending a fortune in the blink of an eye and receiving little or nothing back.

The mailing list is still the single most important factor in the success or otherwise of your direct mail campaigns. A lot of people think that buying a mailing list is simply a matter of buying a list of x-thousand names, then mailing them in the hope that enough will respond to make the exercise worthwhile. The chance of that working is minimal at best, yet that’s how most business approach the exercise.

Your prime objective when sourcing lists should be to find the one list that will garner more customers than any other. But, with thousands of lists to choose from, it’s not easy.

You need to start by understanding your ideal customer or client in as much detail as possible. The more precisely you can identify their characteristics, the better your chances of finding the right list and the more easily you will reach your prime prospects.
Start by working out what your ideal customers have in common.

What magazines or newspapers do they read? What organisations or associations do they belong to? What do they participate in? What do they listen to? What do they watch ? What else do they like to do? What else could interest them?

What are their career needs? What is their level of education? What is their turnover level? What are the common factors in their lifestyles? Where are they located?

If your ideal clients share similar characteristics, there’s a good chance that other people who share the same qualities will also be good prospects.

Go through a free association and brainstorming exercise to discover the common factors. It may be necessary to carry out a customer survey. If you do – and I would recommend it – explain that you’re trying to improve your product or service and would like to know more about your buyers so that you can serve them better.

With this information, you can create a profile of your ideal client and you can start searching for lists that fit your profile.

Besides your own list, there are two main types of mailing lists available: Compiled lists and direct response lists.

Compiled lists can be derived from sources such as business and trade association memberships; car registrations; electoral register; newspaper and magazine subscribers; promotion respondents; public records; requests for information; seminar, conference, exhibition or trade show attendees.

Direct response lists are derived from those who have previously purchased certain products or services: the in-house customer lists of other companies. Everyone on these lists will have a proven history of responding to direct mail, advertising, catalogues or offers. As such, direct response lists will normally perform much better.

Compiled lists are good for gathering large quantities of names and are less expensive than direct response lists. But compiled information also ages quickly and response rates are usually much lower.

Because you will be mailing to large numbers of people who have no proven history of being responsive, there is massive wastage because you still have to spend considerable sums on writing to, handling and mailing large numbers of people who are unlikely ever to respond.

Although more expensive, there is much less wastage with direct response lists and people who have a track record of buying products or services like yours are the most likely to make such a purchase again. You will always be better off using a direct response list so long as you can identify one or more that have proved to be responsive to the type of offer you will be making.

You can research list availability at business libraries using directories like ‘List and Data Sources’. You can then obtain those lists direct from the organisation that generated the list, or from their list managers, or from specialist list brokers.

You don’t pay list brokers for their services because they’re paid a commission by the list owner. Good list brokers can still be worth their weight in gold because they know where to find lists to meet your criteria, including many otherwise hard to track down. They will also negotiate with the list owner or manager, manage the transaction and oversee the whole operation.

You normally rent lists, you don’t buy them. Most lists can be rented for single use. Annual unlimited-use rentals are also available and you can also sometimes negotiate alternative terms.

A good list broker can help you with such negotiations as well as help you make effective choices.

A good broker should be an experienced marketer who knows and understands your industry; they should know what your competitors are mailing and what is or isn’t working; they should be well connected in the list management community; they should be able to find out who has used any given list and what results were achieved.

Ask other direct marketers which list brokers they would use. Contact the Direct Marketing Association for further recommendations.

Once you have briefed each broker on your products and services, your target client groups and the outcomes you’re seeking, ask them to submit proposals on what lists they would recommend and why.

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