Five Strategies for Picking the Best Marketing Lists

Smart direct marketers will agree that whom you target with your promotion is the single biggest factor in the success or failure of your efforts.

In direct marketing, the 'who' is defined by the mailing and email lists—and the selects within those lists—that you choose to reach.

Since the person who gets your promotion is so key to your results, it pays to follow time-tested strategies to find and use the best marketing lists to maximize your success. Here are five strategies you may want to consider the next time you are ready to order lists for a promotion.

Strategy #1—Test lists regularly in all your promotional activities and track the results.

It is remarkable how many marketers ignore this basic strategy. If list selection is the single biggest factor in the effectiveness of a promotion, it makes no sense to test offers, formats, copy, and graphics until you know that you are reaching the prospects who are the most likely to respond. Even if you are 'happy' with the response you are getting now, testing is essential because any list that you are promoting to will fatigue over time.

Even in marketing efforts sent to current customers, it makes good sense to include tests to identify key response characteristics for various segments of your file.

Strategy #2—Research lists effectively by using available published data, professionals in the field, and your professional network.

To begin your search for new marketing lists, there are some outstanding on-line databases that are excellent tools to help you identify specific files. The two most recognized on-line sources are Nextmark and SRDS DirectNet. SRDS also publishes a print directory called the Direct Marketing List Source that includes most commercially available lists.

You will also want to take a look at where organizations like yours advertise and exhibit. Chances are that the subscribers or members of these organizations will also be good prospects for you. Likewise, if an organization is renting your list, it is a good bet that their customer list will also have good prospects for you.

Help from list professionals is also very valuable. A good mailing list broker will help you find the lists that have worked successfully for other organizations with a similar product or offer. They also have subscriptions to the major list databases and experience in using them. List brokerage services are provided at no cost to the list user. They are compensated for their time by the list owner, so it is appropriate to have the broker who did the research for you place the order. Your list costs are the same whether you buy direct or through a broker.

When you select an outside list from a third party provider, your order of the list for direct mail usage will be provided to you in the format you prefer, labels, excel, tape, etc. The rental price allows you to use the list one time. If you order an email list, the manager or owner of the list will send out the email to the list on your behalf. You will supply the text or the HTML content for the email.

Strategy #3—Test marketing lists strategically by testing list categories.

Breakthrough growth for an organization comes from finding a new market segment or category of prospects. When you find this new group of prospects it is not unusual to see the number of responses double or triple compared to what you would ordinarily expect.

For association marketers, some major categories worth testing are:
  • Membership lists of compatible organizations
  • Subscribers to other industry periodicals
  • Seminar or convention attendees
  • Supplementary book and audio-visual buyers
  • Compiled lists selected by job title
And of course, do not forget to test your own in house lists:
  • Former customers/donors/members by year lapsed, and
  • Referrals and inquiries by year received.
Although it is wise to try a variety of list categories, a good place to start is to select a category of lists where the behavior of those who make up that list matches the action you want your prospective customer to take. For instance, if you are trying to sell an information product, try information seekers who have joined an association or subscribed to a magazine. To do fundraising, market to donor files. To generate attendees for an event, try seminar lists.

Strategy #4—Test lists efficiently by trying only the best segments of a new list first.

Begin your list testing by using the best segment or select from a list first. If this select does not work, then you can assume that the remaining portions of the file are unlikely to generate an acceptable response.

But how do you know what the best segments of a list are?

Even if you know very little about a list, you can be fairly certain that you are receiving the best portion of the list by remembering three letters, 'RFM,' and incorporating them into your list selections.
  • The 'R' stands for recency (i.e. Hotline Names). This select is usually the best bet to increase your response rate because recent purchases on a list indicate someone is in transition or in a buying mode.
  • The 'F' stands for frequency (i.e. multiple transactions). Frequency of purchase can also be described as a multibuyer select.
  • Finally, 'M' stands for monetary amount (i.e. larger order size). This select is important if you are trying to sell a higher priced item because it indicates purchasing authority.
It is not unusual for 'RFM' to increase response rates by up to a third. RFM—especially ordering recently added names to a list—can also be a technique to reinvigorate a regularly used list that is experiencing fatigue or a decline in response rates.

Strategy #5—Use direct response lists.

Direct response lists are made up of people who have responded to a promotion and bought a product or service, requested information, or made a donation. In an age when not everyone opens their mail or email, let alone demonstrates that they have the time, interest, and money to respond, these names are a valuable commodity. Direct response lists give you the opportunity to reach a prospect that has demonstrated the exact behavior that you want to have replicated for your product or service.

Because of the demonstrated buying behavior, names on a response list will cost $50 to $100 more per thousand to rent than a compiled file. But direct response lists will also usually respond well above a compiled or directory type file.

Direct response lists are also highly responsive because they include the email or mail address where the buyer prefers to make purchases. Someone who orders a product takes care to give their correct and their preferred address on an order form. In the same way, subscribers and members regularly update names and addresses when they move or change jobs because they have paid for a magazine or membership.

What's the bottom line on finding the best lists for your next promotion?

Since the lists that you select for a marketing effort will have a profound impact on the results you receive, testing and finding new lists is foundational to successful marketing. A new list will open up entirely new market categories for the product and service that you are marketing and will give you access to new customers who are eager to buy from you. Finding new lists takes time and effort, but can be very, very profitable.

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