Five tips for choosing the best lists for your campaign

By Published on .

The importance of a highly responsive mailing list in determining the success of a direct mail campaign cannot be overestimated. Before choosing a list for your campaign, it is important to understand industry basics as well as the distinct roles of list managers and brokers.

List managers represent the actual owner of a mailing list that you might consider renting. List brokers are consultants who can help you find lists of mail responders (people who have responded to some type of mailing and have asked to receive information) who match your target profile. List selects cost more, but they enable you to target demographic, geographic and psychographic information to create a mailing list that will garner an even higher response rate.

Remember that lists are rented—normally for one-time use only. Each time you wish to send out a mailing, you must rent those names anew. Discounts for multiple uses are standard industry practice.

As e-mail marketing has taken hold in recent years, list selection has become even more critical. Permission-based e-mail marketing—communications sent only to those who have specifically requested to receive marketing messages for products and services like yours—is critical, as even one misstep can result in e-mail distributors blacklisting you for future efforts.

Sending an offer to a list that has not specifically opted to receive e-mail about your product or service, or using a list gleaned from membership directories, for example, could have negative consequences.

List selection is an ongoing process in an ever-changing market. But by testing, changing and trying new lists and campaigns, direct or e-mail marketing can be very successful. With that in mind, here are five tips for choosing the best postal and e-mail lists for your campaign:

  1. Never waver from looking at RFM. Recent purchase history, frequency and monetary value. When did the customer last purchase? How often does your customer buy a competing product? How much is the average order value?
  2. Don't be fooled. A list might say it is for a certain targeted buyer, but there may be an invisible person in the mix. For example, if you are trying to reach doctors, you'll find plenty of lists of physicians. But remember that many doctors don't open their own mail—their nurses or office managers act as invisible gatekeepers. So you'll either need to find a way to get the doctor to open your package himself (sending express mail or even overnight service can often bypass the gatekeeper) or target the person who opens the mail.
  3. You get what you pay for. The more recent the responder, the more expensive the name. Hot line names are coveted by all, since a recent mail responder is many times more likely to respond to another offer than a dusty old name (even 18 month-old names begin to turn stale, so ask how recent a list is when you're considering renting).
  4. Just as in life, timing is everything. Post-Christmas holiday January mailings remain popular because they work. Mailing in July isn't as effective, as people are out of the office so much. Know your market and when it's best to reach the most likely responders.
  5. Shape up before you ship out. Since you are reaching b-to-b customers, it can serve your effort well to go against convention. USPS has incented mailers (with discounts) to deliver automatable mail at 6.25 inches by 11.25 inches by 0.25 inches (thick). To get noticed, consider breaking out of the mold—particularly if your list target is C-level suites. It could be well worth a postage premium to put something in their hands that the target just has to open.

Mark Kolier is president of CGSM Inc. (, a direct marketing agency.

Most Popular
In this article: