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3 Direct Mail Methods to Target Your Best Prospects Make sure your marketing reaches the right customers every time.

By Craig Simpson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Are you mailing to the best prospects for your business? If not, you're not using your advertising budget effectively. With a direct mail campaign, you have the ability to mail to a list of specific and targeted, prospects. You should take advantage of this by choosing mailing lists that contain your best potential customers. Here are the methods I use to help my clients get the most out of every single mailing:

Method #1: Similarity Breeds Orders

The first method is one that you most likely have heard about. When you are looking for a mailing list, find a list of prospects that looks like the people who are already your best customers.

But in order to do that, you have to find out as much as you can about who your best customers are. One way to do this is to interview or survey your best customers. Who are they? What are their demographics? What do they like to do? What other interests do they have? The more you know about them, the more you'll be able to find other prospects who are just like them.

To obtain this information you might consider offering your customers an incentive. You might give them a discount or coupon for responding. Or you could enter their name in a drawing for some prize. Of course, assure them that their answers will be kept anonymous and you won't share the information with anyone else. And why would you want to? This is to build YOUR business.

If you're willing to go a step further you could use the services of a company that will "model" your best customers. A number of big data companies have boatloads of information on millions of people. For a fee, you can send the names of your customers to a data compiler, and they will run them through their database to find out everything they can about them given all the information these companies have in their files. You'll learn your customers' average age, income level, interests, etc. Share that knowledge with your list broker, and you can be more confident that the lists you are given to rent are closer than ever to the prospects you want to reach.

Method #2: Follow the Response

You can generally rent two different kinds of mailing lists.

The first kind of list is a compiled list. These lists are put together by getting information from a variety of sources. These could include warranty cards, government records, corporate reports, telephone directories, yellow pages, credit bureaus, surveys, and so on. If you've ever filled out a card to enter a drawing for a prize, you probably had to answer a few questions. Those cards were sold to a list maker who compiled your name with others that had similar qualities.

While compiled lists may contain names of people with similar interests, they are not people who are known to have responded to an offer or purchased anything related to that interest. They have not taken any action with regard to the interest relevant to your product or service that got them on the list. In other words, they are not proven buyers, which makes them weak as prospects for your offer.

The second type of list is a response list. This kind of list contains the names of people who actually responded to a related offer, made an inquiry about it, or made a purchase of an offer. That makes these people much more qualified as prospects for your offer.

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. If at all possible, you want to get a response-based list containing the names of people who have responded to an offer that is similar to your own. For example, if you are sending out an offer for a golf improvment video, then you want to mail to prospects who have gone ahead and purchased golf clubs or other golf equipment, apparel, and gizmos.

Method #3: Copy Your Competition

This final method I want to highlight today is one that most mailers miss … even though I believe it is one of the quickest and easiest ways to identify the best mailing lists for your offer.

I'm talking about researching what your competitors are doing to find out which ones are using direct mail. You may have to make some effort to find them. For example, if you are a chiropractor in a small town, there may not be any direct-mailing chiropractors in your area. In that case you'll have to find the most successful direct-mailing chiropractor in another city. With your list broker's help, try to find out which lists your competition is using, and then get "continuation usage" information on those mailing lists.

Continuation usage will show who is mailing the same list over and over. If your competitor is using the list again and again, then there is a VERY good chance that it is a good list yielding great results, and it is one that you should be using as well. On the other hand if the continuation usage data indicates that a number of your competitors have tried the list, and then did not use it again, that tells you the list did not work for them, and probably won't work for you either.

So, find out what your competition is doing, and follow their lead. Only use lists that are being used by your best competitors. Avoid the lists that they are avoiding.

Use the three methods presented here to home in on your best lists. That way you can be sure that your mailing pieces are going to the right people.

Craig Simpson

Author and Owner of Simpson Direct, Inc.

Craig Simpson has managed thousands of direct mail campaigns and grossed hundreds of millions in revenue for his clients over the past 15 years. Simpson is the owner of Simpson Direct Inc., a Grants Pass, Oregon-based direct marketing firm, and a respected speaker/presenter on the topic of direct mail. He is the co-author with Dan S. Kennedy of The Direct Mail Solution. He blogs at

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