Data & Audience Insights

How to Get Direct Mailing Lists

Of all the factors that can make or break your marketing campaign, none is as crucial as your direct mailing list and choosing the right mailing list service

For more than 50 years, smart marketers have followed the success formula laid out by the late Ed Mayer, who said 40% of a marketing effort comes down to your mailing list (i.e., data. Your offer or message makes up another 40%, and 20% is everything else, like format, copy, and other creative elements.

To make sure that you’re reaching the right audience – as well as optimizing your printing and postage costs – you need to focus on your direct mailing lists.

What is a Mailing List?

In its most basic form, a mailing list is a collection of names and physical addresses (and other contact information) of your customers and prospects. But it is so much more.

Today, a mailing list is a set of data of customer demographics as well as lifestyle and shopping behavior. It gives you a complete picture of your overall audience for your products and services, so that you can tailor your offers using segmentation and 1-to-1 personalization.

Types of Direct Mailing Lists

There are several types of direct mailing lists. Which one you use depends on your audience(s) and your goals for reaching them. Other important factors include your budget, your deadlines, and other resources that figure into your campaign planning. Targeted mailing lists come from several sources, including:

In-House Lists

Your home-grown mailing list – first-party data – is a great place to start. It ought to give you a few early clues about your audience’s demographic profile as well as buying behavior and preferences.

Direct Response Lists

Also known as second party data, these lists are gold because they represent actual buyers of products or services that are like yours. And with breakdowns for average order size, etc., you’ll have a lot of what you need for your campaign planning.

Lists from Compiled Data

Third-party data is collected from many different sources, and is intended to mesh well with your existing lists, especially for any demographic or behavioral information.

There are three main audience categories or list compilations, and knowing how to reach which one makes all the difference:

Consumer Mailing Lists

As the name suggests, these are lists of consumers which have been compiled based on various demographics such as education level, family size, gender, and so on. Generally less expensive, consumer lists offer the ability to reach a specific target area as big as a state or as small as a particular postal route. These lists come in handy if, for example, you own an appliance repair shop; you can choose consumers in your local area based on the average brand of dryer being bought in that location.

Occupant Mailing Lists

Occupant lists are the ones that say “Owner” or “Resident”, for example. They’re one of the least expensive direct mailing lists due to the lack of demographic information. These types of lists are a good saturation opportunity. A supermarket might use an occupant list to flood the surrounding zip codes with special promotions or holiday savings.

Business Mailing Lists

Depending on where you get your direct mailing business lists, they can have a variety of attributes that you can use to segment who receives your mailing pieces. This is especially important if your target business has to be a specific size or industry. And if you have a specific department you’re targeting, you can include a role-based title such as “Chief Marketing Officer” or “HR Manager” as the designated recipient.

Event Lists

Events – both live and virtual – are a good source of names for your outreach. You get current names, contact information, as well as psychographic data on these buyers, especially in the B2B space.

Subscription Lists

Another good source for fresh names is a list of subscribers to a publication – physical or digital  – or to a recurring service. Again, it’s about matching their interests or preferences with what you offer.

4 Steps to Getting a Strong Direct Mailing List

Maybe you’re happy with your current mailing list. If so – congratulations! If not, then you’ll have to work on how to make it better, and improve your chances of creating a successful mailing campaign.

Here are several ways to get started.

1. Define Your Target Audience

Who are your buyers? More than anything else, you need to figure that out. If you have more than one audience, that’s OK, but you may not want to use the same strategy or tactics to target them identically. Doing that will risk wasting time and money.

2. Choose Your Mailing Strategy

What direct mailing list technique will work best to reach your specific target group? To help answer this question, you’ll need to consider your budget, your timeline, and your campaign goals – both current and long-term.

Two main strategies can be used to reach your audience. 

  • Saturation mailing – Is everyone (or nearly everyone) in a geographic area or demographic a prospect? If so, then you can mail to a high percentage (between 75 and 100 percent) of residential and business addresses in a specific area.

Pros: Lower postage costs (using carrier-route sort or EDDM); lower data preparation costs; some basic filtering 

Cons: Lower response rates; less precise filtering; no personalization

Best for: Driving word-of-mouth and awareness marketing; wide-interest marketers of products and services (e.g., supermarkets; restaurants; public services)

  • Targeted mailing – Targeting refines your message to be more engaging because it reflects the interests and needs of your customer or prospect.

Pros: Greater relevance of your offer, as well as copy and other creative elements

Cons: Higher cost for data processing/planning; some personalization may be regarded as intrusive or violating privacy

Best for: Companies seeking a deeper, long-term customer relationship and loyalty

3. Segment Your Direct Mailing Lists

Direct mail segmentation is a crucial step in creating campaigns that deliver more of what your customers want. Instead of putting broad-based audiences on blast, you can focus your direct mailing lists on more narrowly-defined groups of data. For example, you can look at:

  • Geographic – a customer’s physical location
  • Demographic –  a customer’s gender, age, ethnicity, income, occupation, education level, and home type
  • Behavioral – a customer’s buying patterns, habits, and preferences
  • Psychographic – a customer’s interests, lifestyles, activities, and values
  • Firmographic – B2B data such as industry, revenue, and employee count

To be successful in the marketplace, your copy and offers should try different variables, either alone or in combinations, to shape your direct mail. 

4. Test Your Direct Mailing List Often

The late marketer Mal Decker said it best: “Two rules and two rules only exist in marketing: Rule No. 1: Test everything. Rule No. 2: See Rule No. 1.”

The point of a test is to spend money for data that will help you to use that information in rollout quantities and be much more economically efficient. Because testing is expensive, you need to use it to find breakthroughs, not small or trivial improvements. 

Here are a few campaign elements to consider:

  • Segments (see above)
  • Formats
  • Offers/Pricing
  • Premiums
  • Types of postage
  • Creative elements

… and so many more. The possibilities are endless in direct mail, but your budget and time considerations will also play a role in your decisions. 

However, understand that a successful test, once rolled out to a larger list, may produce disappointing results. Factors could include:

  • Too small a test quantity
  • The test was not a representative sampling of the list
  • There was a long time lag between test and follow-up
  • Seasonal factors weren’t taken into account
  • External influences like dramatic weather events or economic news
  • Competition
  • Repeat usage of names from previous tests (note: exclude them unless you can afford a dip in overall response)

Questions to Ask Before Getting Your Direct Mailing Lists

Success in direct mail starts with finding the right partner. Few companies, after all, can do everything on their own.

So when you’re scoping out companies for the right fit, you’ll need to ask the right mailing list questions:

  • What’s your experience in audience segmentation?
  • Was your list updated through USPS NCOA (National Change of Address) in the last 90 days?
  • Do I get exclusivity on mailing lists?
  • May I contact your current and former customers?
  • Do you mail campaigns in-house?

When you have answers you’re comfortable with from your chosen mailing list service, you’ll be closer to meeting your marketing goals.

Wrapping it up

If you need help, the direct mail list experts at have years of experience working on complex campaigns using data of all kinds. We can help you put together a complete and cost-effective direct mail campaign to accomplish your goals quickly.

Drop us a line or call us! We’d love to show you how you can put modern direct mail to work in your next campaign.

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