Skip to Main Content

Buying a Mailing List

Posted by Brian Berg Google+


When embarking on your first direct mail campaign, it’s imperative that you think through all facets of the campaign.  From creative, to offer, to keeping your message congruent with the other advertising mediums.  Below are some of the more important points to remember when creating a mailing list.  Do it right the first time may mean the difference between a positive ROI or never testing direct mail again. Here are seven very important points to remember:


1.  Know your customer


The absolute best way to understand your best prospects is to understand your current best customers.  You as a business owner can describe in detail what your customer looks like based on his or her attributes and need for your product or service.  But the key here is to be able to describe your customer in terms that are relevant to a mailing list broker.  If a mailing list broker is unable to build a criteria set that describes your best customer, then no matter how well you’ll be able to describe this person, you won’t be able to find more just like it.  As an example, let’s say you’re in the business of selling high-end office furniture.  You may describe your best customer as one who desires to have the most cutting edge modern attractive desk-system on the market. 


Your customer may buy your office furniture products because they want to impress their clientele.  Your office furniture is a direct reflection of what your customers want their clientele to think of them…modern, classy, cutting edge.  Though this is a very clear description of what why your clients might buy your products over the competitor, the description is better suited for the direct mail marketers’ creative team that will assemble a congruent message and offer to your direct mail prospects.  A better description would sound something more that this.  “My customers are businesses such as law offices, CPA’s, Real Estate investment trusts, and a personal banker whose business employee’s greater than 50 employees’. 


These customers businesses that are both new and established, but the decision maker is usually the owner located at the headquarter location.”  Notice the identifiers that describe this business clientele are consistent with the filters available from a business mailing lists database.


2.  Provide your mailing list broker with an accurate description of your product or offer.


The broker may have suggestions as to the type of list that would best suite your needs.  Most mailing list brokers can offer suggestions based on the available selects of the databases they typically use.  If you’re unsure of the filters (selects) available on a particular database, your mailing list broker should be able to offer you a data card that describes in detail these selects as well as the pricing for these selects.  In summary, a well informed list broker has a greater chance of helping his direct mail marketer.


3.  Know the difference is a response and a compiled mailing list.


-Response mailing lists are comprised of individuals who have responded to an offer either through the mail, phone, and television or through other means of mass communication.

-Compiled mailing lists are a compilation of information from public records and sources such as the phone book, courthouse records, bankruptcy filings, mortgage deed records and more.


The more you understand the differences with the various available mailing lists, the better you’ll be able to use them to your advantage.  The primary reason for understanding the difference between these two mailing lists is because the compiled mailing list will naturally contain more records per a given geography.  Should your market territory be finite, the available compiled mailing list data will be larger in number than the response file type mailing lists.  Likewise, if your market territory has no boundaries, your ideal mailing list is one in which those individuals have already responded favorably to an interest or offer such as yours.  Though the mailing list data usually costs more, response files are typically considered more responsive.


4.  Database analysis


The more you know about your internal mailing list of customers, the better you’ll be able to communicate to them.  A database analysis is a process where by you provide your customer names and addresses be evaluated.  The process is completely automated and relatively secure.  What is done is your internal customer mailing list is passed against a large universe mailing list.  This universe mailing list contains all the deliverable addresses within the U.S.  This mailing list database contains not only the name and the address, but also any demographic and psychographic information available on the records.  Wherever there is a match of the two mailing list databases, all the relative elements of information is temporary appended to your database. 


The processor then looks for patterns within the appended data for what kinds of mailing list conclusions can be made.  This profile “snap-shot” is then compared with the “profile” of the resident consumers within the same market territory of your mailing list.  Ultimately, we are looking for a comparison of what your customers “look like” relative to the people in the same relative area that are not your customers.  We are also looking for how your customers “look differently” from the surrounding population.  The more we can tell about your customers the better.  Ultimately, we want to find other people within the area that are not customers but look identical to them. 


The theory is that if we were to mail to those people who look most similar to your existing customers, the better changes are that they will become customers themselves.


5.  Mail piece versioning


Understand your customers' needs and desires and speak to them in a manner that is specific or special them.  Not all people are the same.  Imagine walking to your own mail box tomorrow afternoon.  You reach in and find a postcard inviting you to a new restaurant in your area.  We’ve all received these types of postcards with some that appeal to us more than others.  What would this post include that would truly grab your attention?  The answer to this question is most likely different for you than it is for your neighbor.  For a young family, the piece might include a picture of a happy family enjoying a dinner out together. 


The copy highlights the importance of getting the family out together and how this new restaurant caters to family dinning.  For a middle aged successful single female professional, the same mail piece may be a turn-off and would be quickly tossed in the trash.  But should the postcard include a photo of a group of other like aged singles enjoying dinner together with an emphasis on entrée’s that peak the interest of the most sophisticated palate, this mail piece might entice the single female to the very same restaurant as the young family. With today’s variable print technology, each mail piece can be different in accordance to the recipient of the piece itself. 


The customization can be as different as the graphic designer is willing to make it.  And generally speaking, the more your mail piece is versioned to the targeted audience, the better your direct mail response will be.  The ideal mailing list for such variable print mailings a “segmentation” type mailing list.  Segmentation mailing lists classify people into naturally occurring subsets of the population.  A restaurant’s market territory might include a 10 mile radius and within this territory, there might be 12 primary segments of the population.  Mailing the same general mail piece and offer to all 12 segments is less effective than mailing 12 versions of the same mail piece.


6.  Testimonials


A growing business can never have too many raving fans and a mail piece can always benefit with testimonials.  At the risk of cluttering a direct mail piece, relevant testimonials help a business establish trust, especially if the one providing the testimonial is a well known celebrity or a well branded business.


7.  Response measurement


It cannot be stressed enough to design a response measurement mechanism in your direct mail campaign.  Without measuring how many responders or orders have been achieved as a direct result from your direct mail investment, you will never know how effective this investment is as it compares to other advertisement mediums. 


Direct mail measurement can be measured several different ways, i.e., responders, buyers, foot-traffic into the store location, actual gross revenue directly attributed to the campaign, gross profit directly attributed to the campaign, and the potential lifetime value of the responders/buyers/donors of a campaign.  Whatever the method of measurement, quantifying your response will help both in justifying a second test campaign to ultimately investing more or less into direct mail marketing.


To learn more about how to maximize your direct mail return on investment, visit or call us at (866) 501-6273.  If it's mortgage related, you may also want to visit or