One of the first steps you want to take when selecting a mailing list is to analyze your customer base. The idea is to find out all you can about them, and then purchase a list that has more people like them. Doesn’t it make sense to mail to the people that are exactly like your current customers?

Developing a mailing list by from your current client database is one of the best ways you can use direct mail. Even if you don’t already have the addresses, there are steps you can take to start capturing this information.

Sending a mailing to people that have done business with you in the past is the best way to get a high response rate. They already know who you are, hopefully had a good experience, and perhaps only need a reminder. A simple newsletter or promotional flyer can generate new interest in these old friends.

If you’re in retail, you may think you can’t develop a list. It can be more of a challenge. Most people won’t want to give out their address and other information. However, some will volunteer if you place a comment box, catalog request form, or newsletter signup sheet near your checkout. Another good technique is to use contests. We’ve all seen the boxes where you drop your paper to win a car or trip. A large percentage of folks will sign up if they have a chance to win something. You don’t have to spend a lot to do this either. We’ll talk about prize insurance and travel certificates in future articles, but a quick Google search will get you started.

The main issues you run into when creating your own mailing list are…

  • Data entry
  • Address format
  • Address quality

If you don’t want to do the data entry yourself, there are several service bureaus that can handle the task. Hiring a professional may save you more time and money down the road with the other issues too.

The address format can mean the way you store the list. If you don’t have a list manager program Excel is good. Avoid using Word to enter the list. When entering the records, you should use the available fields in the same way. Store names as First Name, Last Name on every address, or the other way around. Just do it the same way all the time once you decide how you want it. It is very important to have separate fields for City, State and Zip. Most of the time, you can get away with one address line. If you are building a business to business (B2B) mailing list, you will probably want to have a place for company name and job title.

Address quality begins will good data entry, but it doesn’t stop there. Once you have your list prepared, you should have it run through NCOA (National Change of Address) and LACS (Locatable Address Correction Service). Most classes of mail require you to do this within 95 days of a mailing anyway, but it’s in your interest to have the address as correct as possible. If you use First Class Mail, you should edit your list for any returned mail or address corrections you receive. The more accurate your list is, the less you’ll pay for postage, and the more likely you are to reach your target audience.

Getting started in developing your own list may seem like a lot of work. Once you get started, you’ll find the benefits far outweigh the costs. In the end, you’ll know more about your customers, be better able to reach and serve them, and you might even develop a mailing list you could sell yourself.

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