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Little black book

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 01:00
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Buying mailing lists is no slam dunk. The easy part is finding list vendors. The hard part is identifying the best one.

To ensure a successful mail campaign, define what you want the list to achieve.

Updated or antiquated? Mailing lists become outdated quicker than you think. Consumer lists age about 2 percent per month. Therefore, be specific about a list’s age. If it’s more than three months old, demand a discount.

Several large mailing list houses conduct a number of large mailings yearly to update their lists and prospect for names.  Find out whether the list is fresh.

Match profiles. Mailing lists profile information like age, sex, educational level, interests, income and occupation. This information is critical for targeting your best prospects. It gets you past a rapid-fire sales pitch to specifics about the data’s actual value. It can also help you determine whether the list’s prospects have been bombarded or are open to mailings.

Never pay twice. By running lists against your in-house database, you should only pay for unmatched names. This can be especially useful when you already have a large database. Your goal with the new list is expanding your mailing’s reach without duplication.

Don’t overbuy. Pay only for what you need. If you only use addresses, for example, don’t pay full price for a list with phone numbers.

Comparison shop. Check to see that the lists have similar methodologies and characteristics. Compiled lists are a combination of lists that are not exactly similar. Direct response lists are generated through targeted surveys and contests. Both methods have their good points.

Check references. Newcomers to direct mailings can easily get taken. Even experienced mailing list buyers may be duplicating their mistakes annually because they’re not asking the right questions to maximize their response rate.

Before buying or renting lists, ask vendors for the names and phone numbers of some businesses that have purchased the list in the past three to six months. Ask those references what their response rate was and how it compared to the vendor’s predictions. Also, ask about the percentage of bad addresses. Ask if they’ll use this vendor again and why or why not.

Time and labor. You may decide after trying a few vendor-generated lists that your in-house list meets your needs.

Internally generated mailing lists can be valuable to your business, but like other key assets, they require a significant investment to develop and update. It comes down to how you value your time.

Safeguard your database. If you keep your own mailing list database, back up and safely store your tapes in a bank’s safety deposit box. Backup tapes are indispensable in case your hard drive irretrievably crashes or someone steals your computer. Don’t spend several years developing a great database only to see it disappear in a flash.

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