In the world of Direct Mail, one of the most important parts of any marketing or outreach project is the list. Without a solid list, your beautiful mail piece might be worthless. Your audience will miss seeing your message, or maybe you'll end up speaking to folks who have no interest in what you do or why you do it. So before you move forward on your next mail campaign, consider these do’s and don’ts for creating effective marketing lists…
There are plenty of websites and companies to buy lists from, but what are you really getting? In today's digital world, anyone can build a website and claim to provide any and all types of services that appear to be a great value. But remember, your list is a critical part of your marketing project. It is the foundation on which all of your other outreach will build upon. Be sure to ask questions and make sure you know what you are receiving for your money.
If you spend more money buying a “targeted” list to hit high income households, for example, how are you reaching all of the retired folks who have substantial savings and money to spend, but have no current “income”? If you look at geographic lists, how far will people drive to reach you? How many competitors will they have to pass on the way? Is your product or service something that everyone in a particular area would have a use for or an interest in, or are you selling something niche and highly specialized? If you are running for public office, does your list reach actual voters or just households of folks who live in your area, but do not vote?
How often has this happened to you... you go out to your mailbox to collect your mail and you have multiple letters or postcards from the same insurance salesman, real estate agent or local smoothie business advertising their service. Unless you are mailing something that requires each individual to receive their own mailpiece (as in a senior mail ballot request for voters), your mailing list should always be householded. Why waste money on duplicate and triplicate postage to reach the same people with the same message at the same time?? This is a very basic mistake, but one that happens way too often. Never assume that your client list or any contact list is free of duplicates until you have had it householded by someone who really knows what they are doing.
This is a requirement of the US Postal Service for any mailing, but it also updates your records to ensure that your mail is going to the correct address if the person has moved. If you are looking to only reach folks in a specific geographic area (for example, in a 3 mile radius of your business), then you can have the move update run and remove any names from those homes with new occupants. It's better for a prospective customer to receive a mail piece addressed to "Current Resident" than it is to receive one addressed to a person who no longer lives there... that's a recipe for a quick trip to the recycling bin since they feel like the message is not meant for them.
Does someone in Delaware really need to receive your mail piece if you are a dentist in Sugar Land? If you are running for office in Fort Bend County, it does no good for your mail piece to reach a voter at their new address in Harris County. And if you are targeting specific names within the senior population, you should consider asking your mail house to run your list through the Social Security database to remove folks who have passed away. You don't want to upset a widow or widower by addressing your message to their deceased spouse, if you can avoid it.
If you will be reaching out to your own database of customers or contacts, always take your time when compiling and exporting the data. A mailing address will be invalid if all of the required details are not included in the list. (Apartment or suite numbers are a prime example of details that are often omitted by accident.) It's best to start by exporting more fields than you really expect to need. It's easier to hide, remove or work around extra data than it is to add anything accurately to a list after it has been produced.
Unless you are experienced with Excel, it is best to leave data manipulation to the experts. On more than one occasion, our family has received postcards from someone running for office in a district we don't live in. We've also received mail advertisements from companies thanking us for buying something that we did not buy (but we did have a history of purchasing other things from them). Sometimes, the postcards/envelopes had our address, but names we had never heard of for folks who had never lived at our address. In other cases, they were addressed to us, but promoting a candidate who was not on our ballot or for a product that we had no history with. All of these mistakes likely resulted from a list being sorted incorrectly, mixing up all of the data. It’s an easy, but embarrassing mistake to make. It's also a waste of money and confusing to the folks who receive the mail pieces.
Lists are available in all shapes and sizes. They can be general and cover entire zip codes. They can be very specific and based on income, home values, education, interests, etc. The more detailed the list, the higher the price tag, and the fewer people that you will be reaching. Before you buy a list, consider your real needs. What do you really hope to accomplish by reaching out? Most businesses, for example, will get better results using a simple residence list without names or specific demographic information. Spend some time discussing your needs with your mail house to make sure the list you buy is the right one for you.
It's understandable to want to get your data ready and move ahead at 100 miles per hour, but always speak with your mail house BEFORE you export your client or contact data. Postal software (which all direct mail is run through) requires specific types of data files such as .CSVs and specific columns. Dumping your data into a Microsoft Word table for labels won't do your mail house any good, and you'll need to export your data again. So, your project will always run more smoothly if you speak to your mail house before you export any data.
We hope these tips help you avoid some of the list mistakes we have seen folks make over the years. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about creating an effective marketing list to reach your target audience, please call us at 713.569.1369 or send Tom an email! We look forward to helping you create the right list for you!