Is it the offer itself, the graphic design, or maybe the copy? Nope. The single most important element of every direct-mail campaign is the completeness, accuracy, and relevance of your mailing list.
Without a doubt, it’s the quality of your list that will make or break your direct-mail campaign. If you are going to be profitable with direct mail, you must make certain that the right audience gets your message.
For example, don’t waste your time mailing me anything on cooking. I’ve grown up on my own, eating out the majority of my life. When I built my house, I asked if they could leave out the kitchen because I don’t use it. The architect thought I was joking. So no matter how creative you make your offer, I’m still not going to be interested in anything related to cooking.
Before you do anything else you must determine where your list is going to come from. There are basically only two kinds of marketing lists—in-house and rented.
Your in-house list should be made up of responses from your outbound marketing, website, contact management system, past leads, and customers. These are qualified prospects that have either requested more information or have already purchased from you. Your in-house database should be set up to track relevant variables, like complete contact information, demographics, purchase history, last contact, and last sale date. How frequently a customer orders, and how much they’ve spent with you are pretty important things to know when you’re creating offers for your in-house list.
This is as good a time as any to remind you to protect your customer database–it is one of your most important assets. I’ve heard way too many horror of businesses that failed to follow this advice, only to have their list stolen or deleted by a disgruntled employee, or corrupted from poor list management (yes, you have to manage your lists!).
If you’re the type of company that has multiple database lists in various software systems, make it a priority to get them organized so you can actually use them. Clean your lists periodically to maintain their accuracy and avoid wasting valuable marketing dollars by mailing to old addresses or outdated contacts. As a rule of thumb, figure roughly 3% of your list relocates, retires, or dies every month. That means a one-year-old list is only 75% accurate, and a three-year-old list is only 50% accurate. How old is YOUR list?
To capture discounted postage rates, the U.S. Post Office requires that you clean your list using National Change of Address Services (N.C.O.A.) and C.A.S.S. certification. Another way to help clean your list is to mail your materials First Class with the piece marked with “Address Service Requested.” Undeliverable mail will then be forwarded or returned to you so you can correct or delete inaccurate contacts.
The second kind of list is a Rented list. These come in every imaginable size, source, and criteria available, and allow you to pin-point new prospects. There are list brokers who can help you identify the most responsive prospect lists for your mail campaign. Typically, you rent a list for a one-time mailing, with any contacts that respond to your offer being added to your in-house list, thus becoming yours to market to again and again.
One of the best sources for finding a reputable list broker is the Standard Rate and Data Service’s (S.R.D.S) direct-mail book, which can be found online or at your local library. A list broker will help you find a list that will meet your criteria with minimal waste.
A few questions you should ask the list broker when searching for Rented lists include what is the deliverability guarantee (in most cases it’s 93 %.)? How much will you be compensated if your return rate from incorrect addresses is higher than expected? What is the source of the list (was it compiled or is it a response list?)?
A response list means it was created from actual responses to an offer; usually yields better results. Are the responses from mail, phone, TV, radio or other media? How old is the list and when was it cleaned? What kind of selection criteria is available? Is a sample mail piece required for approval prior to rental?
Again, your list is the most critical component, so take time to search for the best list based on your criteria.
To select the criteria for your list you have to know the audience you want to reach. Who are your best customers? Where do they live? What do you know about their habits and behaviors? The more you know about your current customers, the better use you’ll be able to make of your list broker’s experience.
Use rented lists ethically. Most lists are rented for one-time mailings (although you can usually pay for multiple uses) and have minimum purchase requirements. Don’t even think about using the list to more than once—most are salted with fake names that allow list brokers to track who’s mailing without authorization.
A clean, comprehensive, and accurate list is more important than any other aspect of a direct-mail campaign. You can spend thousands of dollars on expensive paper, neon colors, and irresistible copy, but if your message never gets to your prospects, you’re just throwing good money out the window. And you’ve got to have better ways to spend your money than that, right?
Ford Saeks is the president and CEO of Prime Concepts Group. In addition to being a professional speaker, published author, and regular contributor to industry magazines, Ford is an expert in direct and Internet marketing, having helped his clients sell millions of dollars of products through his innovative marketing and branding campaigns. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Ford, call him at 1-800-946-7804 or 1-316-942-1111.