We see printers both local and national advertise great rates on printing postcards. Some say they can also get you a list of prospects to mail it to. After the ink is on paper, the lists of leads of consumers and/or businesses are where it gets tricky. Let’s look at why.

This morning a client for whom we’re designing a direct mail postcard, expressed her profound appreciation that this year she can spend her time selling and following up on her consumer lead requests rather than wrangling her teenage daughter to help her print labels and stick the labels and the stamps on each direct mail postcard. Then re-printing the card and trying to save the stamp when they mess up.

I assured her that I get it! Over the past four decades, I’ve licked and sticked, peeled and placed more stamps and labels than I could possibly count.

But her biggest win, as she shared with me, was the ability to target her potential audience from an available list that gave her the ability to pinpoint her exact target list. She wanted to reach both men and women whose 65th birthday was within four months of the day she wanted to mail. She shared the income level, the homeownership and the specific neighborhoods (zip codes), and a few other things she wanted.

She was spared the long story about how we do that, but you won’t be. Hold on to your direct mail seats because you’ll finally see why it’s so difficult for so many of the mass direct mail postcard printers to play in the mailing list game.

Let’s look at the four main types of consumer marketing lists.

In-house or customer list.

This, just as it sounds is your list. It’s the list of customers you create as you build your business. Hopefully, you collect the names and addresses of each and every person or company you work with. This list is gold! These are people that you know, that know you. There is no more valuable list than your own. (In another article, we’ll talk about what to do with this gold.)

The tricky part aside from gathering the names, mailing addresses, and hopefully phone numbers and email addresses is to keep them in a safe and useable place. (In another article I’ll provide a how-to on collecting and maintaining your consumer lead lists). I shouldn’t have to point out but I will that this goes for all types of lists. My heart breaks every time we work with a business and learn we have to start from scratch building a business mailing list for a company that’s been around a long time.

Custom generated lists.

TargetLeads NUCOR Christmas Card

From time to time our clients need to reach a list of customers not available from an outside source. Sometimes we have to build a list from scratch. Other times we may only need to gather up one piece of information and append it to an existing list or we may want to qualify an existing list to purge out a certain segment of a list.

Several years ago we were asked to help a national steel producer, to launch a commodity-type product called a grinding ball. They manufactured the grinding balls at their mill in Utah. The quality of the product and the reduction in shipping costs to the mining organizations who consumed the product, made us feel the launch would be easy. When we reviewed their previous failed journal print advertising, we recommended direct mail we would send to their own customer lists. Easier said than done.

They had no list, nor was there any list available of buyers of grinding balls. Even the subscriber list of the trade journals in which they’d advertised was unavailable. We went to work and created a list from phone books, mining directories, and association memberships. We combined and refined and then picked up the phone and identified as many buyers as we could. When we hit 1,000 prospects that we felt gave us a large enough target, we mailed. Within six months, the steel plant was producing at capacity, and was leading the western United States in sales; outmaneuvering several long-standing competitors.

On another occasion, we did the same for a chemical company launching a liquid treatment targeted to golf courses. Our custom list helped us secure a 28% response rate from that custom business mailing list.

TargetLeads PowerCharge

As nearly all companies have an internet presence these days, creating custom lists becomes easier, but still it’s just plain old work.

We’ve hired companies who’ve claimed they harvest data from the web and build lists, we’ve had mixed results, so we don’t exclude them as a possibility.

Even today we are creating a list for a specialty CBD company requiring more highly targeted capability of a business list. It can be costly and time-consuming to find business lists, but they deliver because they can be so highly targeted.

Lists of businesses.

Many years ago I was invited by a vendor to attend the national college baseball World Series. This vendor so happened to be one of the nation’s largest list providers. Of course, they had ulterior motives or why would they wine and dine me so well, I’m not that handsome. I was interesting to them because I was creating and mailing postcards, letters, and packages that depended on mailing lists. The baseball games were enjoyable but the tour of their facility was amazing.

They were creating a giant custom mailing list. They subscribed to every phone book in the country and scanned and entered every listing in all the yellow pages across the nation. Then they subscribed to as many trade journals as they could along with business directories. With massive groups of people and massive computing power, they build and maintain mailing lists that give us tremendous targeting capability. To this day we use this and other companies just like them to help us with mailing lists. We call these lists, compiled mailing lists.

In addition to the compiled mailing lists just mentioned, individual owners of lists market their lists for rent. Typically, a list broker, and yes indeed TargetLeads is a list broker, will research specific lists from these individual list owners. For one of our non-profit clients, we rent lists from other non-profit organizations with similar donors. Experience shows that people will support more than one charitable organization. You will know that, if you’ve given to one organization, you will get solicitations from similar organizations.

Magazines and other organizations who’ve created and maintained their subscriber lists go to great efforts to maintain and rent those names. Being able to target with specific lists is very effective, therefore those organizations know that keeping and marketing those lists is priceless.

Compiled lists.

Although all four of these lists mentioned here are custom/compiled/generated lists of prospects and customers, which means they had to be created by some method and put into a format from which you can access them. We refer to a compiled list as one that spreads the widest net possible and harvests as many names as possible. Here’s how it works for the four largest list compilers.

TargetLeads List Points of Data

Teams of people subscribe to as many list sources as are available. These lists include public telephone directories, membership records of as many organizations as possible, public records available from states, counties and cities, subscriptions to every manageable site, publication, and service. They gather names wherever possible. But it’s not just names, it’s of course addresses, phone numbers, the type of dwelling, the value of that dwelling, the kind of cars owned, education levels, occupations, interests, family makeup, income, political preferences, religion, and ethnicity. Each source of information may provide as little as one or two bits of data, others several dozen. All together there can be over two hundred unique bits of information collected and organized into columns they call fields.

During this collection process, which is non-stop, the information collected is dumped into a giant vat of data. It’s stirred up, and using massive computing power; information becomes patched together to create a profile of individual human beings—hundreds of millions of people come into focus.

The list compilers begin by collecting the list of all the housing units in the country. According to the 2021 statistics, there are 141,950,000 housing units. By looking at each of the hundreds of millions of records in the vat of data, they begin plugging people into these housing units.

For example, this computing may find there are 662 Kent Merrells in all the jumble of data. It then looks at the addresses associated with those 662 Kent Merrells. Once it assigns those Kent Merrells into the appropriate housing units according to the address on the original data source, it decides that there are actually only 26 unique Kent Merrells because of the 662 Kent Merrells there are only 26 unique housing units that have a Kent Merrell living there.

TargetLeads Lists Number of Sources

This process then appends additional information to each of these Kent Merrells. From one record it finds that the Kent Merrell in Utah subscribes to a fishing magazine. The one in New Jersey is a Democrat who owns a townhouse. Another in Texas subscribes to National Geographic and travels extensively. The one in California owns a surf shop and subscribes to a coffee-of-the-month club, and so on.

All this data is appended to the millions of housing units. Along with all that data we find there is also a female about the same age with the same last name living in the same house. Then we find a male about 26 years older living in the same housing unit with the same last name. As data is added and added, the composure of a household begins to take shape. We learn the family has lived in the home 17 years, they have certain religious affiliations, we learn their ethnicity, political leanings, and education level.

Keep in mind that every person identified does not come with a complete profile. Some are so incomplete we are not sure if indeed it is still a person. Records age and people move, they marry, they divorce, they even die. Sometimes it takes years for records to catch up with the truth. But the truth does emerge and marketers do reach their intended audiences.

Marketers are able to then target potential audiences by nearly 200 criteria. Since nobody knows everything about everybody, experienced direct mail companies learn which criteria selections refine and improve response rates and which don’t. They learn which criteria reduce the potential list quantities and what those criteria selections cost in both time, quantity, money, and response. To learn more about how TargetLeads can help you, get in touch with us today.