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August 9, 2022

Direct Mail List Building 101

by 
Guest Author

The quality of your prospect lists is the single most important factor for running successful direct mail campaigns. In the old days, a marketing list was simply a collection of the names and addresses of those you hoped to acquire as customers. Today, it's a demographical goldmine. Direct mailers now have the option to segment their list, add personalized messaging, and track results for better performance over time. It's estimated that about 60% of the response to direct mail is due to the list, according to our friend Will Spero, CEO of Mailers Haven. In other words, lists are a big deal.

Confirm your target audience

If you've been in business for years, you probably already have a target audience in mind. However, it's essential to do market research to ensure your assertions are still correct. You can optimize postage and printing costs by establishing confidence in your target market and what they really want. Consider:

  1. What matters to them right now in their lives?
  2. What connection does your brand have to this?

Determine your strategy

There are many different ways to plan direct mail campaigns. It all comes down to your offering, your audience, and what type of response you want. For example, a landscaping company might send out a mass mailing in the spring. They are simply targeting homeowners in a specific zip code. Thus no customization is needed, and everyone receives the same offer at the same time. Meanwhile, a large retailer may use A/B split testing to determine which elements are driving conversions for a new product campaign. They can test the impact of demographic list segments, mail formats, pricing, design elements, and even different types of postage.

Companies seeking to raise the lifetime value of each customer and reduce churn may opt for more personalized messaging. The costs may be higher up front, but the ROI will make it worthwhile. They'll gain invaluable behavioral data for future direct mail campaigns and understand their audience on a whole new level.

Purchase your direct mail lists

Once there is clarity around audience and strategy, marketers can begin purchasing lists for acquisition campaigns. Unfortunately, going for the cheapest lists isn't always the best move. While you might luck out, a low-quality list could also yield a weak response rate –  even if the offer is solid. It's best to invest in quality lists right from the start. If you don't want to commit to a list until you try it out, some are available to rent. Renting is typically more affordable than buying.

Lists are often separated into two categories: in-house and broker. As you probably could've guessed, in-house lists are made up of the first-party data you already have. This includes lists of prospects who have purchased products from you or signed up for mailings in the past. This is a great place to start, but broker lists can help you expand. A broker list is any list you purchase from a second-party data source. A good broker will curate the top-performing lists and make them available for rent or sale. For B2B, remember that you're not just looking to reach the right companies but the right roles within those companies. This will ensure your mail doesn't end up in the trash.

Popular list providers like Mailers Haven and ListSource are a great place to start. Both B2B and B2C businesses can get relevant data. A few things to consider when purchasing mailing lists:

  • Has the list been updated through NCOA (the USPS's change of address system)? You'll want to make sure your lists are up-to-date, and the details are accurate. Lob's address verification feature keeps your lists accurate, so your mail is always deliverable.
  • How many others are using the list? Some list providers may grant exclusive rights, while others' lists are available for anyone to purchase. Depending on the situation, this may or may not matter to you.
  • How was the list created? Knowing where the contacts were sourced is vital information. For example, some lists are compiled from event attendees, while others are compiled from geographical locations. Making sure the data source matches your target audience will save you from low response rates later.

Segment your lists

In many instances, marketers find that list segmentation pays off. Lists may be segmented according to geographic area, age, income level, gender, buying habits, interests, values, and more. This allows you to connect more authentically with your audience and create memorable messages. Once things get going, you can track responses to specific lists and move that data into your CRM. With direct mail automation, you'll effortlessly gather data that helps you lower your cost per acquisition over time.

Measure your list's performance

Once it's time to put your list to work you'll want to ensure you have the right tracking in place to effectively measure the conversions and/or ROI of your purchased list or your in-house list. With direct mail, keep in mind that it typically has a longer lifespan than a digital campaign so widen the attribution window a bit - especially if your call-to-action, like a discount, has a future-dated expiration date.

Recommended reading

How to Use Direct Mail Tracking to Optimize Campaigns

Mastering Direct Mail Attribution

10 B2C Marketing Automation Tools To Try in 2022

Discover the best direct mail list-building hacks

Whether you're just starting out with direct mail or revamping your strategy, list-building should be top of mind.

Looking to refine your process? There's plenty more to learn about getting the best prospect lists for your direct mail campaigns. Register for our upcoming Advanced Acquisition Strategies for Intelligent Direct Mail webinar to learn more about lists and best practices.

This blog provides general information and discussion about direct mail marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.

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