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Want to Create the Holy Grail of Mailing Lists? Follow These 5 Tips.

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Your campaign is nothing without your mailing list -- literally. Your mailing list is your everything. Not only does it include the list of names and addresses you’re going to send your sales piece to but also the targeted demographic that is going to buy your product. So, it might seem obvious that your mailing list needs to be in tip-top shape to make your campaign as effective as possible. But how do you go about doing this?

Here are a few pointers.

1. Pick lists that match your customers.  If you want to increase your response rate, you need to spend extra time and attention on picking the right mailing list.

When you rent (or buy) a list, you can specify the parameters of the people you want to send your sales piece to. You want prospects on your mailing list to look like your best customers. So, a great place to start is to find out who your best customers are in terms of age, income, marital status, hobbies and interests, among other attributes. The more specific you are, the better you can define your mailing list. So, don't just create lists for males over 50; you need to drill down much further than that.

Related: 4 Ways to Make Sure Your Email List Doesn't End Up Dead

To get a better idea of your key demographic, survey your best customers to find out more information about them. Or, you can work with a data compiler that has a lot of information on millions of individuals to help find out the characteristics of your current customers.

You can use this information effectively by finding lists that have prospects that have the same characteristics as your best customers.

2. Work with a list broker. When you’re new to direct marketing, it’s tempting to try to cut costs by any means necessary. Sometimes, a list broker can seem like an unnecessary expense. You might be thinking, “I’ll just find the lists on my own.” After all, you know what kind of lists you’re looking for thanks to the modeling process outlined above. Right?

Wrong. A good list broker will find you the best lists, get you the best prices, help you get money back for bad names and duplicates and take care of all the negotiating with list managers. These are all jobs you do NOT want to try to do yourself.

Also, keep in mind that list brokers work like real-estate agents – they get paid a commission on the list rental from the list owner (not the renter). While you might pay for other necessary services, such as "merge purge" and "list hygiene," the actual brokerage services cost you nothing. So, there’s really no good reason not to work with a list broker.

3. Regularly check lists for effectiveness. While you should always track the results for each mailing, you should also track the history for each list. Looking at the complete history allows you to see how the list is trending.

For example, if I rent the same mailing list in January, March, June and July, I’m going to do a side-by-side comparison of the response rate for the list. This is important because lists change over time. By comparing the response side-by-side, you will see if the list is trending up (getting better in response) or trending down (response weakens each time you mail it). This can help determine if it is worth mailing the list again or you want to increase your quantities.

Also, make sure you ask your list broker to send an inquiry to the list owner and ask if the offer, sales package, price point or anything else has changed since you last rented the list. If there are no changes, you shouldn’t see a significant change in the results. If there have been, you’ll want to re-test that list rather than assume your results will turn out the same.

Related: 5 Ways to Build a Solid Email Marketing List

Research your lists from the beginning and make sure you’re aware of changes to your lists when reordering.

4. Check lists for duplicates. Even effective lists need maintenance. Before you send out any mailing, you need to do what’s called merge purge or list hygiene. A big part of cleaning a mail list is checking for duplicates.

If you don’t take the time to remove duplicate names, you might as well be throwing thousands of dollars into the trash. The fact is, probably 98 out of 100 mailing lists have duplicate names on them. Not only do lists have duplicate names within themselves, but there is a really good chance some of the names will appear on other lists you’ve rented and want to mail at the same time.

5. Don’t mail to prisons or graveyards. Another aspect of list hygiene is to make sure you’re not wasting money advertising to people who literally can't show interest in your product.

Think you’d never do that? Don’t be so sure. The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) estimates that every year, 22 million pieces are sent to people who are deceased. And many millions are sent to prisoners.

Data companies can run your list through the merge purge process and remove any names of individuals who are deceased or incarcerated.

After performing list hygiene, it is not unusual to see between 10 and 20 percent of names removed because of bad addresses, duplicate names, wrong ZIP codes and other reasons.

With these five tips you will be well on your way to mailing the perfect list every time. But remember, this kind of maintenance is constant work: lists change, customers change and businesses change. You must keep up the effort if you want the results.

Related: Build Your Email List With Distraction-Free Landing Pages and 3 Other Techniques