The Worst Mistake in Direct Mail.
By Jeffrey Dobkin

Jeffrey Dobkin, author of How To Market A Product For Under $500!, and Uncommon Marketing Techniques, is a specialist in direct response copywriting. Mr. Dobkin is a speaker and a direct marketing consultant. He can be reached at: 610-642-1000 or visit him at

The worst mistake you can make in direct mail is mailing to the wrong list. Yep. When you mail to the wrong list, you get experience - which is what you get when you don‚t make any money. No one orders at all. Chevy hubcaps to Buick owners. Radios to the deaf.

Here‚s how to get the best list, and resources you can use. Call the list brokers - they are in the phone book in every major city. Make sure you ask tons of questions before handing over any money. Just remember, even though you are the purchaser, the brokers work for the LIST OWNER. So make sure you get tough with them about answering your questions. Questions to ask?

- Precisely who is the list audience made up of?

- Does the list include actual purchasers or merely inquirers (who are of less value)?

- How old are the names on the list?

- How often is it updated?

- How often - and how recently - has it been cleaned?

If a list is clean, you won‚t get a lot of your mail pieces back. Ask brokers for a data card, which shows list specifications.

When purchasing names to sell products to, ask how recently the people on the list have made a purchase. Recency is a key factor in mailing lists. The formula recency, frequency, monetary is the standard for measuring the quality of most mail order purchaser lists.

Ask how many other mailers have tested the list.

Ask how many people continued after their test - meaning their test mailing drew a response and they mailed to it again. Then ask how many people rolled out - mailed to the rest of the entire list.

Ask the origin of the list. A common source of names is records that have been compiled in some fashion. Compilers may acquire their names through public and private records such as vehicle registrations or phone books. Keep in mind that compiled information - like fish - gets old rather quickly and doesn‚t age particularly well. Response lists are from people who have inquired or ordered through the mail. They are more mail responsive to your direct marketing offer.

Another common source of names is magazine subscribers. These lists are usually very good - when a subscriber moves and the publisher gets the magazine back, it costs him money - so most publishers are extremely prompt with their name and address corrections. Trade associations are usually an excellent source of mailing lists. Better associations always contain the industry‚s major players. Local associations like the Chamber of Commerce are good for local business names. You can select by business size, number of employees, SIC code, etc.. Trade Show lists are also a good marketing tool - lists of both attendees and of exhibitors. Check out & for tradeshow information. Two excellent resources for investigating lists at the library are the SRDS Direct Marketing List Sourceś and the Oxbridge Communication, National Directory of Mailing Lists. They‚re thorough and exceptionally easy to use.

Copyright ©1999 Jeffrey Dobkin