Compiled Lists and Response Lists (written October, 2012)
There are two types of lists, determined by their origin: Compiled lists are a common source of names and records that have been gathered, collected and entered into a database. These names may have been acquired through public records such as vehicle owner registrations or high school teachers. Directories, such as a directory of plant maintenance engineers, are usually compiled lists. Many lists are compiled from categories in phone books across the U.S. Examples would be all the photography shops or all the luggage dealers in the United States. Or all the plumbing supply dealers.
Keep in mind that compiled information – like fish – gets old rather quickly and doesn’t age particularly well.
Response lists are data from people who have responded to an ad or who have purchased from a catalog, direct mail package, TV ad or other offer. With any mailing you are considering, first ask precisely what groups or what characteristics make up the perfect audience. Then try to find a list that matches these definable characteristics closely. Good delivery percentages of your mailing piece to a specific audience can usually be found in lists of magazine subscribers. These lists are usually very targeted to their audience and good because most publishers are extremely prompt with their name and address corrections. Call a magazine publisher and ask if their subscriber list is for sale, then ask for the name of their list broker.
List brokers are found in the Yellow Pages in every major city. They can be heaven, supplying incredible information or hell, looking for that fast buck. Make sure you ask tons of questions before handing over any money. While you pay the broker, he actually works for the list owner – so take that into consideration when you ask questions and negotiate price.
Some list brokers sell through their own catalog of mailing lists. These handy reference tools will give you an idea of just what’s out there – what kind of lists are available and counts of how many records exist in the thousands of different list categories. Want to know how many dentists there are? It’s a piece of cake: 190,168 are members of the ADA. Want to know if there is a list of picky ale drinkers? Find the list of “Ale in the Mail – Continuity Members:” 70,973 of them. Selling an accounting product? Try the list of Accounting Institute Seminar Attendees – all 78,634 of them. Looking for college professors? Did you want the 43,347 who teach English, or the 18,184 who teach history, or the 8,477 in marketing, or the 9,194 philosophy teachers, or the whatever.
If you need additional information – like how many doctors who specialize in allergies and are the head of their practice with four or more employees can be found in Pennsylvania – call any of these catalog houses and ask them to run a count.
Several companies now offer lists of every business or every person in the U.S. on CD-ROM. These products allow you to create your own list criteria and generate your own precisely targeted mailing lists. Some of the better programs make it easy and fast to use their CD-ROM products.
One of the best resources for lists is the Internet. There’s no getting around it now, the Internet is here to stay – you might as well get on and get used to it. It’s a great – probably the best – research tool available for almost anything, if you can filter out the crap from the good stuff. But isn’t that the way with all research tools: you got to figure out which is the good stuff that you can use and which is the bad stuff that you’ve just spent the last two hours looking over and have now figured out is pretty worthless.
You’d be surprised how many of your competitors will sell you their customers’ names. If not your competitors, how about asking other businesses who serve your market if you can purchase their mailing list?
Of course, as I’ve always said, the best list of all – bar none – is your own house list of current and past customers. These are the folks that know you and trust you; they’ve experienced that great customer service you offer and are now willing to buy something else from you if you would only let them know it’s available. Spend some extra time in this most important area – list research: tighten your list criteria, do your homework, spend time in research and find the best lists you can possibly find. Then test several. It’s worth the extra time and money to target your audience with precision and increase the chance you’ll come up a winner at the post office. There is no single more important factor in creating a greater response to a mailing than mailing to the best possible list. Whatever you do, don’t settle for a mediocre list unless you want mediocre results.
The author of this article is Larry Costello, President of All-American Print & Mail, 2200 Wilson Blvd #102-57, Arlington, VA 22201.