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Understanding the Differences Between Compiled and Response Mailing Lists

Successful mailings begin with a good list. Mail campaigns may either succeed or fail for many different reasons, but most often it is because of the list or the offer. Generally, in terms of the success of a direct mail program the equation is as follows:40% list, 40% offer, 20% mail piece. Without an accurate, targeted list, the mailing will more often than not fail. So, where do you begin in the quest for a good list?

Let's start with the basics; there are essentially two types of lists:

Compiled Files: Compiled files are large databases that have been gathered or "compiled" from phone books, credit files, and various public record sources such as the county tax assessor files.

Response or Managed Files: Response lists are comprised of people who have purchased or inquired about a particular product or service. Typical response list sources are magazines, membership clubs, catalogs, warranty cards, etc.

Compiled lists are excellent list to use for mass marketing, particularly on a limited budget. Technology and the widespread availability of additional data have allowed these files to be enhanced with demographic information which allows accurate targeting of specific individuals and households.

However, a compiled list will not work for every product or service being marketed. In general, compiled lists work best when a marketer:

  1. Has a limited marketing geography (roughly, anything less than a full county).
  2. Wants to reach all households or businesses in an area.
  3. Wants to reach all households or businesses that fit certain demographic or firmographic criteria.
  4. Is on a limited budget.
  5. Wants to mail fewer than 5,000 pieces.
  6. Want to make telemarketing follow-up calls before or after a mailing.

If you don't fall within one of the above examples, you may experience better results from a response list.
The first thing you may notice about response lists is that you recognize the names.

Do you want to target music lovers? Rolling Stone makes its subscriber list available, as does Colombia House and BMG. Or, perhaps you're looking to reach Golfers. How about Golf Digest's list or people who have purchased from Golfsmith?

When first dealing with response lists, many people are victims of "sticker shock." Yes, response lists are more expensive, but they are also more targeted. Particularly if your product has a relatively high price point, using a targeted response list of people who have purchased goods or requested information on a similar or complimentary product will produce the best results. Although the list expenditure is greater, the ultimate ROI will usually also be greater.

Almost every single managed list will require a sample mail piece for approval. Turnaround time is much longer with a managed list (at least 3-5 business days versus 1 day for compiled). List hygiene is not always a priority for the response list owner, so it is best to ask when the list was last updated.

There are over 30,000 lists available in the United States alone. The first step to identifying the list that is right for you is to find a qualified mailing list supplier to help guide you through the myriad choices that are available.