What is a mailing list?
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
I was speaking with a potential client recently, who having never purchased data before, asked me what is a mailing list? This took me by surprise, but I thought I would take a minute here to explain exactly what one is in case other prospects are also unaware what the term ‘mailing lists’ actually refers to.
A mailing list is essentially a collection of names, addresses and other important information used by a company to send marketing material to multiple recipients. Mailing lists can be purchased externally using third parties, gathered internally by sales and marketing departments or could be made up of existing clients and prospects. The term mailing list has been traditionally used to describe a list used for postal marketing purposes but is now often used to describe email or electronic marketing lists too.
Let’s take a look at exactly what information makes up mailing lists and how we can use them to our advantage.
What information can a mailing list include?
A mailing list needs to contain the key information required to run a specific type of marketing campaign to it.
For example, if you want to run a direct mail campaign to you mailing list, you must have a postal address for the business and if you would like to personalise the mailout, you would also need the contacts name.
If you were looking to run an email marketing campaign, you would of course require an email address and again, if you wanted to personalise your email campaign, the recipient’s name.
Other helpful information included in purchased mailing lists include: industry sectors, job titles, job roles, company turnover and number of employees.
While the persons job title or the number of employees at the organisation you are targeting are not going to go on the envelope, this information is incredibly important when you are going through the selection process with a mailing list supplier. They help you drill down into wider mailing lists and extract your core target audience.
At Results Driven Marketing we use a proven 7-step data selection process.
Using mailing lists for traditional postal marketing/direct mail
As a marketing strategy, direct mail involves sending a physical package, letter, postcard, brochure etc. to those contacts you have collected or purchased on your mailing list.
Many marketing strategies come and go, but direct mail has literally been around for centuries. According to Central Mailing Services, the earliest form of direct mail is recorded during Egyptian times in 1000 BC. I think it’s more than fair to say that, as marketing delivery method, it has proven the test of time.
It is more commonly used to advertise to consumers, but businesses do still use it to advertise their services to other businesses. A good example of this would be a salon services company mailing their latest brochure to existing and prospective clients.
Most direct mail campaigns are outsourced to professional mailing houses. They will ask for your data in certain formats, usually a .csv file with clearly defined headers i.e. company name, contact name, address line 1, address line 2, town, county, postcode.
It is important to get your mailing list in order before embarking on a direct mail campaign due to the costs involved. Using an old or out of date list will prove to be a costly mistake.
There are a lot of options available to you for outsourcing your direct mail campaigns and it’s probably a really good idea if you discuss what your supplier expects from you in terms of a mailing list early on.
Why is having a good mailing list so important?
Having a good mailing list is a source that can pay you many times over. You can use it on multiple occasions, testing different messages to different segments to find out what works best for each. By going through this sort of process, you can maximse your ROI and be laser targeted in the way you go about marketing your services to your prospects.
Having a bad mailing list can be the stuff of nightmares. One of the greatest fears as a marketer of salesperson is poor data. The loss of potential revenue from marketing to a bad list instead of a good one can often be compounded by the reputational damage caused.
A good mailing list can be the difference between continued growth in a business, hitting targets and maintaining morale in sales and marketing departments.
If you are not directly involved in using your mailing lists on a day to day basis, a good way to find out the strength of your current mailing list could be to ask your colleagues what their thoughts are. Where its strengths and weaknesses lay, what impacts are those strengths and weaknesses having on sales performance and lead generation, and what improvements could be made.
Procuring new data to supplement your existing mailing list can be a highly cost-effective way to drive new sales and boost morale, so it makes sense to make this part of your ongoing business development plans.
How to get the most out of a mailing list?
It is wise to keep your mailing list as up to date as possible. The best way to do it, in our experience is little by little. Now, this isn’t a fun job, but it is one that, if you can out some time a side to do on regular basis, will pay you back.
Some of the things you need to look out for when cleaning your database up:
Duplicates – as a recipient, it is annoying to receive two, three or four of the same piece of marketing literature but as a business, it’s even more annoying wasting hard earned marketing budget on doing it. You need to try and spot them early on and remove them where possible.
Check names – misspellings are common in mailing lists, especially ones where we are employing sales teams to input information into CRM systems. Not only are people annoyed by having their names spelt incorrectly, it doesn’t look very professional.
Unsubscribes – as much as we would like them to, not everyone wants to receive marketing information from us. If you have recipients who wish to unsubscribe and be forgotten, make sure you have a process in place.
Missing information – you need to check your database for inaccuracies and missing information.
If you have purchased a mailing list, our advice is to use it while it is fresh. Data decays rapidly. Businesses don’t change addresses all that much, but people change jobs and get promotions all the time and if you don’t use you list quickly, you can find it is partially out of date when you do get around to using it.
As such, you are probably wise to get the broad numbers from you mailing list supplier and the take those to your direct mail company for a quote. Once you have everything in place with them to send your mailer, contact your mailing list provider and get your data at that point and not before.
For more information on just how quickly data decays, check out another on of our posts on the subject here. The numbers might shock you!
You might still be unsure of where to start with your existing mailing list. We have a number of clients who have collated information over the years and starting to unpick now would be a laborious challenge and one that they just don’t have the stomach to undertake.
We have a number of data appending, cleansing and enrichment services that are specifically designed to help you get the very best of out of the information that you currently hold and can supplement it with fresh information for companies that you are not currently working with.
Where can I purchase mailing lists?
Buying the right mailing list for your specific marketing needs can be painful task. Many companies we come across have either bought a poor mailing list in terms of quality or one that wasn’t best suited to their needs in the past.
Having supplied mailing lists for a number of years we have seen the marketplace change dramatically.
Pre-GDPR, there were hundreds of suppliers offering vastly differing quality. Many were swept away in the run up to, and implementation of GDPR. This was largely down them being poor quality mailing list suppliers who didn’t really understand what the new rules would mean to them.
Now, nearly two and half years on, we are seeing the numbers of mailing list suppliers returning to similar levels as before, which means it is more important than ever to understand exactly what you are buying and who you are buying it from.
Results Driven Marketing are specifically set up to help you get the right information for your direct mail campaigns.
We work with you to understand your target markets and only deliver mailing lists that match your needs exactly.
You can find more information on our direct mail data here