Saturday, August 15, 2015

It’s On the House: Developing Your Mailing List

Direct mail is a valuable tool for businesses and organizations to keep in touch with clients or members, re-establish a relationship with inactive customers or lapsed members, and introduce the business or organization to prospects. Direct mail can be combined with social media for even greater effectiveness together than either used alone.

A direct mail campaign requires a mail piece (attractively designed content) and a mailing list. If asked which of these three things – the design of the mail piece, its content or who it is sent to – is the most important in generating response, what would you say? You may be surprised to learn that who it is sent to (the mailing list) is three times as important as either design or content in generating response.

Types of mailing lists

There are two broad categories of mailing lists: house and purchased. A house mailing list is the one you develop yourself from your client and prospect contact information. A purchased mailing list is one obtained through a third party that essentially licenses its use for one or multiple mailings.

Purchased mailing lists are compiled using various sources for the information. The cost of purchasing the list (stated as a cost-per-thousandnames) depends on the data source, how many times it will be used (onetime or multiple times) and sometimes how much additional information besides name and address is included (called selects).

The least expensive purchased list is compiled from secondary public information sources such as professional licensing databases, real estate transactions or census data. These are further subdivided into residential mailing lists and business mailing lists. A residential mailing list may or may not include
occupant names.

A response list is compiled from people who have made purchases or responded to offers, such as a magazine subscription list or survey respondents. A specialty list contains names and addresses of a specific nature, such as people who purchased service contracts for a particular vehicle make and model. Most specialty lists are rented for a one time use with heavy penalties imposed for using the list more than agreed upon. They’re usually privately owned and require the list renter to meet criteria for list use (such as approving the mail piece prior to mailing) before agreeing to rent the list.

Developing a house list

For most businesses or organizations, a house list is a valuable business asset that can easily be developed. When correctly structured, aggressively maintained, and frequently used, it can be the foundation of an outbound marketing effort that builds customer loyalty and provides strong sales leads.

A house list is a collection of individuals or businesses that have at least one characteristic in common that is relevant to the product or service offered by a business. For individuals, the characteristic might be demographic – age, gender, household income or geographic proximity. For businesses, the characteristic might be industry (represented by SIC or NAICS code), sales volume, location or years in business.

When a mailing list is enhanced with behavioral information (date of last purchase, total purchases over a given time period, types of products or services purchased) it becomes a database that can be analyzed to predict buying patterns. This in turn can be used to tailor the sales message so it has direct and relevant appeal to each individual or business on the mailing list.

Mailing list accuracy

A house list is most effective when it is accurate. Accuracy is related to the structure of the list, data entry standards, and how often the addresses are updated. An accurate house list contains names that are spelled correctly, addresses that are up-to-date, complete and conform to United States Postal Service (USPS) standards for abbreviation and punctuation, and has no duplicates.

Mailing list structure
The structure of the mailing list is the foundation for accuracy. Each element needs its own separate field sized appropriately for the information it will hold. For the greatest accuracy, include a field for all possible situations, even if they occur rarely.

The basic structure for a house list is first name, last name, street address, city, state and zip code. But before determining the structure, think about how the list might be used.

  • Will you ever send invitations to events that require a social formof address (Mr. and Mrs. Brian Taylor; The Honorable PatriciaNelson; Rabbi Isaac Levinson)? If so, you’ll need a field for title.
  • Will you ever want to use an informal salutation with the first name of an individual and the spouse (Dear Brian and Leticia)? If so, you’ll need a field for spouse name.
  • Will your list contain a mix of individuals and businesses? Then you’ll need a company field to enter the names of businesses.
  • Will you need to mail to Canada, Mexico or another foreign country? You’ll need a country field.

For accuracy, a field should contain only one type of information. That means a company name needs to be in its own field, not entered as a first or last name. For foreign addresses, it is extremely important to have a separate country field.

Data entry standards
After establishing the structure, develop written data entry conventions so everyone who updates the mailing list is doing the same thing. Of critical importance is adopting the USPS address abbreviations for street type (St., Ave., Blvd., etc.) and secondary address elements (Ste., #, Sp., etc.). These can be found in USPS Publication 28 Postal Addressing Standards available online or as a PDF. Using USPS standards significantly increases the ability to deliver the mail piece to the intended person at the correct address.

Written conventions are also needed for mailing list elements unique to your house list. Decide how to handle titles so they are consistent. Will you use CEO or Chief Executive Officer?

Spell the word ‘and’ or use an ampersand (&)? Decide how to handle data elements that are longer than the allowable field length – create an abbreviation, or let the element be truncated during addressing (that is, cut off when the space runs out).

Move update
The US Census Bureau reports that on average, 1 in 6 Americans move every year. However, some demographic segments move more often – about 33% of renters move every year, compared to about 10% of homeowners; and about 33% of adults in their early 20s move annually as well.

For this reason, and because the USPS requires it as a condition of allowing mail to be sent at a reduced postage rate, the addresses in a house list need to be kept current.

One way to do this is to mail at least every 60 days and use an ancillary service endorsement on the outside of the mail piece. It tells the USPS what to do with the mail piece if the individual or business is no longer at the address you have.

Another way is to compare your mailing list to the database maintained by the USPS of individuals and businesses who have turned in change of address notices. We provide this service, called move update verification, to our clients. Above all, you must update your house list with the new address information. It does no good to receive the information if it doesn’t make it into your house list.

We’re direct mail experts

Call on us to help you keep your house list current. We have been providing direct mail services to our customers since 1995 and we are good at what we do. For more information or to set an appointment, call Marya at 215-923-2679 or email

Direct Mail Experts

At Creative Characters, we know how important it is to provide customers with an “experience” when it comes to direct mail. Our savvy designers and writers are well-versed in all the techniques that get people to open the envelope and do what you want: respond. Our production team doesn’t just know printing; they specialize in the printing, matching and personalization requirements of direct mail. Our data specialists don’t just crunch numbers; they excel at massaging your in-house mailing data into the most qualified and deliverable mailing list possible.

We’ve produced thousands of effective direct mail designs over the years. Whether you're launching a new product, creating brand awareness or trying to generate buzz for an upcoming corporate event, there is no better resource for your direct mail campaign than Creative Characters. Put our expertise to work for you. Call 215-923-2679 or email today.

Merge, Purge & De-Dupe

If you are compiling a house list from more than one source (such as the customer and prospect lists from several outside sales people, or a customer list and vendor list), you need to know about merge, purge and duplicate removal. In the merge/purge process, two or more name and address files are combined (merged) into one list and duplicate records are identified and deleted (purged). De-duplication (often called de-dupe) is the same process but using only one list. The main benefit of merge/purge and de-duplication is to ensure that a single individual or business receives only one mail piece.

Identifying duplicates requires a set of rules to define what constitutes a duplicate. Addresses can be compared to addresses only; names to names only; or names and addresses to names and addresses. Matches can be exact (meaning every element is identical) or near (meaning Bob Peterson or Rob Peterson would be considered a match to Robert Peterson).

Merge/purge and de-duplication are best done with mailing list management software. We offer this service. If your house list has not been checked for duplicates recently, we suggest you contact us to arrange for the service.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Q&A: What kinds of mailing lists are available?

In the most general terms, there are two kinds of mailing lists: a house mailing list consisting of information about your own customers and prospects; and a purchased mailing list consisting of information that has been gathered and offered for use. Here are descriptions for some of the various subcategories of mailing lists.

  • House mailing list: a house mailing list includes the names, addresses and other information for customers of a business. It may also include leads generated by advertising, trade shows, outside sales people or responses to contests. As a general rule, a house mailing list provides the best response rate from a direct mail campaign.
  • Response mailing list: mailing list of people who have purchased products or services; includes magazine subscription lists.
  • Survey mailing list: mailing list that has been created from people who respond to surveys; often contains demographic data.
  • Compiled mailing list: a mailing list compiled from various public records, then merged and purged. Compiled mailing lists often contain additional demographic data such as age, household income and ethnicity or behavioral data such as making purchases from catalogs.
  • Business mailing list: in addition to business name and address, a business mailing list may also contain demographic data such as annual sales, number of employees and telephone number.
  • Residential mailing list: a mailing list of home addresses. May or may not contain names.
  • Occupant mailing list: mailing list of home addresses that does not include names.