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Creating a Mailing List


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Creating a Mailing List

by BNET Editorial

Tags: marketing, mailing list, direct marketing, tool

A quality mailing list is probably the most important element in a direct-marketing program, and assembling it is key to your success. There are several routes to a good list:

• use internal sources to compile a valuable mailing list of both customers and prospects

• rent or purchase existing lists from sources such as list brokers, Web sites, publishers, or other organizations offering lists of their customers

• commission a specially tailored list that matches your requirements exactly

What You Need to Know

Can I offer a list of current and prospective customers that my

company has created to other organizations?

You can market the list to other organizations, but first look into applicable

regulations. Customers may have a right to know how their personal data are being used. When you collect information from customers, always include a clause asking if they are willing to allow their personal data to be given or sold to other organizations.

If I use an external list, is it better to buy it or rent it?

That depends how frequently you plan to mail. Rented lists are for a single use only, and the list owners have security techniques to detect and counter unauthorized repeat use. A single mailing campaign may be enough, but experience indicates that multiple mailings generally achieve better results. You would need to compare the cost of buying versus renting the list for, say, three mailings.

Is it always better to source lists from direct mail specialists? Can lists

compiled internally ever be a good alternative?

An internal list is only as good as the sources you have used to put it together. If your target market is existing customers and good prospects, an internal list may be adequate. An external list supplier may not have the same detailed understanding of that market. However, if you are moving into new markets where you have no existing contacts, it may be more effective to draw on the resources of a company with experience in that market.

What to Do


In its simplest form, the mailing list includes just names, addresses, job titles, and telephone numbers. The list can be refined by adding information on buying patterns, lifestyle, and many other factors to provide a comprehensive picture of customers and prospects.

To build or enhance your mailing list, draw from the various resources already available to you, such as:

• customer (current and former) records

• customer correspondence, including complaints

• warranty records

• service records

• sales prospect files

• requests for information from the Web site

• sales force reports

• market research surveys.

Be aware of any applicable regulations concerning use of personal data before you contact others, however. The Direct Marketing Association will be able to offer advice on this issue.

Look Further Afield for Information

Once you have tapped into your company’s internal resources, you can supplement the gathered information by looking at:

• customers’ and prospects’ Web sites

• databases and information services available via the Internet

• general or industry-specific trade directories

• membership directories for associations and groups

• local telephone or chamber of commerce directories

• specialist magazines and yearbooks

• business reports and industry surveys in newspapers

• published surveys.

Obtain External Lists If Appropriate

If you do not have the resources to compile your own lists or if you are moving into new markets, you can purchase lists from sources including:

• list brokers—there are many such brokers who specialize in different types of lists (medical, sports, etc.)

• Web sites

• magazine publishers

• directory publishers

• trade associations or professional institutes

• trade show and event organizers

• commercial organizations


Consider these factors when choosing a list from an external source:

• How closely does the list match your customer profile?

• How much wastage will there be—that is, how much of the list falls outside your customer profile?

• Are there any restrictions on the use of the list?

Have a Bespoke List Created

Standard lists may not match your desired customer profile closely enough to be worth using, and you may wish to commission a specially tailored list. When you commission a list, talk in detail with the provider about your desired customer profile. The better the provider understands your needs, the better quality list you’ll receive.

Keep Your Lists Up to Date

If you maintain your own lists, it will be worth your while to refine them continually:

• Ensure that any new customer and prospect data you receive is incorporated into the lists.

• When you communicate with customers and prospects, include coupons and other reply mechanisms and add the responses to your lists.

• Encourage the sales force to provide up-to-date customer and prospect information for the lists.

• Maintain a search program on the Internet and in publications to identify new prospects for your lists.

Segment Your Lists

The strength of direct marketing is that it can provide a high degree of precision, bringing your message to people who can act on it. By segmenting your lists, you can send specific offers and messages to people most likely to respond positively.

Here are three different approaches to segmenting lists:

Consumer lists can be segmented by lifestyle and interests, which indicate what people will be most interested in purchasing:

• marital status

• income level

• occupation category

• home owner/home value

• car owner/car value

• personal interests

• credit card holder

• shopping patterns

• vacation preferences, leisure interests

• insurance status

• brand preferences


• reading/viewing habits.

Business can be similarly segmented in ways that can help identify what—or how much—any particular recipient would be interested in buying:

• type of business

• size of business

• number of employees

• annual expenditure

• average order size

• purchasing frequency

• head office versus local purchasing

• purchasing history

• key contacts

• job title

• budget authority.

Business and consumer lists can be segment according to their previous buying history:

• customers who have bought in the last six months

• customers who purchased in the past but not recently

• customers who spend over $X annually.

You may decide, for example, to offer a special discount to customers who haven’t purchased from you recently.

Check the Accuracy of Lists

To reduce waste in your mailing campaigns, it is important that you regularly check lists for accuracy. Three of the biggest problems are:

• duplication, where the same individual appears several times, possibly in different guises, for example, Ron Smith, R. T. Smith, Mr. Smith. Mailing to Mr. Smith three times wastes your money and is likely to irritate him.

• out-of-date information, which will put your direct mail into the wrong hands.

• incomplete addresses, which will send your direct mail into oblivion.

Comply with Regulations on Personal Data

The basic premise behind regulations on the use of personal data is this: if you collect and maintain personal data, use them properly. In broad terms, regulations are

designed to ensure that:

• Data users follow sound data-handling practices and are open about how they use data.


What to Avoid

You Overlook Internal Sources of Information

Many companies choose to rent or buy external lists without even considering internal sources of list information For example, mailing to your own present or past

customers can reinforce your existing communications programs and deliver a high level of response.

You Use Out-of-Date Lists

A mailing list is out of date almost as soon as it is compiled. People change jobs, move, or change interests. List maintenance must be a continual process.

You Don’t Segment Lists

Direct marketing works most effectively when it is aimed at a specific audience, so as you would expect, the more you segment your mailing lists, the more precisely you can communicate. Different groups within your target market may have different purchasing needs or spending levels, so taking some time to personalize the information you send to them will enhance your chances of engaging their interest and—ultimately—making a sale.

Where to Learn More


Tapp, Alan. Principles of Direct and Database Marketing. 3rd ed. Financial Times Prentice Hall, 2005.

Web Sites:


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