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How to Build a Targeted Mailing List

How to Build a Targeted Mailing List

We’ve talked a lot about snail mail and direct mail lately. They’re still a powerful way to reach your audience, even in our digital world. But how do you build a targeted direct mail list that best reaches the people most likely to respond to your offers? 

 You can’t just grab a random list of names and addresses and hope for the best. Just like with digital marketing, you want to tailor your audience to those segments of the population most interested in your product or service. If you sell Medicare supplemental insurance, you don’t want to target young families with children. You want to target demographics (or firmographics if you’re B2B) that match your ideal customer. 

 We champion direct mail here at Simply Noted and use it extensively in our own marketing. Over the years, we’ve narrowed down what works and what doesn’t. We’ve built a highly successful direct mail list. We credit this both to the quality of the list itself and the handwritten mailers we utilize. It’s no mistake that we’ve built a business generating authentic-feeling, pen-written notes, cards, and mailers. We put our money where our mouth is. 

 But it doesn’t matter how great your direct mail pieces are or how potent the messaging is if you’re not targeting the right people.

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Before you can work on refining your audience, you need to start with a list best matched to your purposes. First, determine whether you’re targeting consumers or businesses. This shouldn’t be difficult since you know who your customers are, but since direct mail lists target one or the other, you need to purchase or rent the right market. 

 Then you’ll need to examine the three most common types of mailing lists and choose the one (or a combination) that best suits your goals. We’ll look at those now.

Male and female business owners.

In-House Mailing Lists

If you maintain a CRM, you already have the germ of an in-house direct mail list. These are people or businesses that may have expressed interest through your website, at a trade show, or through previous marketing efforts. In-house lists should be the basis of any mailing list because they’re a known quantity. Their constituents have already shown interest in what you offer, so you know they’re open to your messages. Best of all, in-house lists are free because you already own them!

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Direct Response Lists

Direct response lists consist of individuals and businesses that responded previously to offers from other organizations. This type of direct mail list is excellent for companies interested in targeting specific behaviors and interests. If you’re a dog sitter, you might buy a list of people that previously responded to offers from other dog-centric businesses, are members of the American Kennel Club, or subscribe to Dog Fancy magazine.

Compiled Mailing Lists

In contrast to direct response lists built as the result of specific individual actions, compiled lists are assembled from publicly available databases such as phone directories, voter registrations, articles of incorporation, and the like. As a result, they aren’t useful for targeting specific interests. Instead, businesses use them to target defined geographical areas. 

 Compiled mailing lists are most useful for local businesses interested in marketing to a narrow geographic range, such as a specific city or a defined range around their location. If you run a local pizzeria, your customers will cluster in the area directly around your restaurant. A compiled direct mail list is perfect for you because you’re not looking to target specific interests. You just want to hit households within, say, seven square miles.

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Smiling small business owner


Once you’ve chosen the type of list you’re starting with, it’s time to narrow it down. That’s done in two stages. The first happens before you take possession of the list, and the second once you start advertising.

Narrowing Down Your Direct Mail List Through Segmentation

First, you need to segment your audience. If you’re using a compiled list, there isn’t a whole lot you have to do. For the most part, your geographic requirements dictate your list. But you can narrow things down using general demographics like age, gender, and marital status. 

 Your choices are much wider concerning direct response lists. You can filter geographically like compiled lists. For consumers, you can also filter by specific interests, purchase histories, memberships, publication subscriptions, search histories, giveaway and offer responses, and a wide range of demographics. 

 With businesses, you can filter by industry, business type, size, public or private ownership, number of employees, sales volume, and other firmographics

 Think carefully about the sorts of people or companies that would be interested in your offerings, and then select filtering criteria that cater to those sorts of entities. If you sell children’s clothing, you’d likely filter your mailing list to include people with children of a certain age and others that purchased children’s products within the last three months. The first category almost certainly buys children’s clothing on occasion, and the second demonstrated an interest in children’s products with their previous purchases.

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Further Refine Your Direct Mail Through Testing

You have a list. It’s targeted. Now you need to put it through its paces and see how it performs. Let’s revisit our last example to see how this works. 

 Our children’s clothing company decided to target families with children and people that made recent kids-related purchases. They created a direct mail piece and sent it to 30,000 homes. Then they broke out their response rate for both categories. As they expected, families with children were the most active, with 8% responding. Recent purchasers were much less responsive, coming in at just under 3%. 

 It would seem our shop owners should focus entirely on the first category with future mailings. However, further segmentation reveals something interesting. Recent purchasers under 60 had a low 1% response rate. However, 5% of those 60 and over responded. This indicates that grandparents were much more consistent purchasers than younger people. So in their next mailing, our children’s clothing purveyors stripped out addresses from younger previous purchasers and watched their overall response rate climb.

SEE ALSO:  How to Track ROI of Your Direct Mail Campaign

Excited group of business people


Developing the perfect direct mail list takes time. Each mailing is an opportunity to experiment with new segmentations. Some may not work out as you expected, but over the long term, you’ll target your list with increasing precision until you know exactly who to reach and what sorts of messages those people respond to. 

And while we’re on the subject of experimentation, we strongly recommend giving handwritten direct mail a try. Hand addressed mailers enjoy a 99% open rate. At Simply Noted, our handwriting machines wield real ballpoint pens, creating an unparalleled handwriting experience. Upload your messaging and addresses, and we’ll take care of everything else. You can even link your CRM using our supplied integrations. It’s direct mail at its most refined. And once you have a great mail piece, potent messaging, and a targeted direct mail list, your campaigns will shine!

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