Q&A – mailing lists

Where do I find good mailing lists?


Mailing lists are the biggest mystery of direct mail.   They are the most important element in a direct mail campaign – and the least understood.

When searching for mailing lists, you can go it alone or you can contact a list broker.  List brokers can provide you with detailed information on all sorts of mailing lists.  Once they understand who you want to reach, they will do the research for you and make recommendations for your list rental.

List brokers get paid a commission from the list company – so you’re not paying anything more than you would if you were to contact the list company on your own.

Still, it’s not a bad idea to understand the list business.

Compiled vs. response lists

Mailing lists are developed in several ways:

Some lists are developed from directories and other publicly available data.  These are known as compiled lists because they are “compiled” from existing data.

Other lists are developed from magazines, trade associations, catalog companies, charities and other organization where people had to take action to be on the list.  These are called response lists.

Compiled lists are also called demographic lists, while response lists are called behavior, or psychographic lists.

Compiled lists tend to be cheaper than response lists, but response list tend to be more effective.

Recently, we have see the emergence of web-developed lists, also called crowd-sourcing lists.  These are compiled lists that have been developed by other list users who share their lists with others.

Evaluating mailing lists

There is not magical way to know which lists will work best for you.  The best you can do is to understand the list, use your judgment to determine its appropriateness for you, then test in small quantities.  If you find some lists that work, go back and get more names.

Develop a customer profile

This is an overlooked step in the process.  It may seem obvious, but you need to know you want to reach.

Before you start searching for lists, describe your customer profile in as much detail as possible.

Whether you use a list broker or contact the list company yourself, you are going to be asked to define your audience.  Think about your audience in demographic and psychographic terms – and write it down.


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