Your mailing list is one of your most valuable marketing resources. It holds information on your customers and prospects that can be used to improve customer satisfaction and increase sales.
An up-to-date marketing database is a goldmine of useful information. It can help you run your business more effectively, providing a snapshot of your most profitable clients and highlighting sales trends.
Building a mailing list
Before you begin to create a database, you need to think about the information you want to hold on each contact. Basic customer details - address, email, telephone and fax numbers - are just a starting point. Details about buying habits will enable you to better understand your customers and meet their needs. You can also collect lifestyle information such as gender, age and income so you can target your marketing messages at specific demographic groups.
Your contact list can be compiled from a number of sources. Start with your existing customers and contacts. You can then find new prospects in your area by looking in the electoral register. For business prospects, you can refer to the membership lists of industry bodies or local Chambers of Commerce. You can also consult directories. Copying and mailing a whole list, however, is a breach of copyright.
Renting or buying a mailing list is a good way to reach a new customer base. List rental usually costs about £120 per 1,000 mailing names - but bear in mind lists of consumers tend to be cheaper than lists of business contacts. When you shop around for the best mailing list, you can ask for high spenders or other groups based on social type, location or job title.
Keeping your database clean
Keeping your mailing list clean is an important job. A good direct marketing contact list should have accurate, up-to-date and relevant data. It's vital to clean your list regularly by removing or amending incorrect data (for example, when mailings arrive 'returned to sender') and getting rid of duplicate entries. You will quickly alienate your contacts if you send them mailings that are wrongly addressed or irrelevant to them.
The law gives individuals the right to stop their personal information being used for direct marketing. A request in writing must be honoured within 28 days. Individuals can also ask to see any personal information you hold about them to check if it is correct.
You can improve the accuracy of your marketing database by checking it against the Royal Mail's Postcode Address File (PAF). This service checks spelling and accuracy of addresses and postcodes and corrects them in your mailing list.
Finally, make sure you do regular checks against the Mailing Preference Service (MPS) list, the Telephone Preference List (TPS) and the Fax Preference Service (FPS). These services are for consumers who want to opt out of receiving unsolicited mail, calls or faxes.
Using your database to improve profitability
Your database can reveal your customers' buying behaviour, including the type and frequency of orders. It can highlight trend and patterns. It can even help you target your perfect customer.
This is valuable market intelligence. By analysing your own data, you can make more informed decisions about everything from product development to pricing. Take that perfect customer profile, and you can find new prospects that match it and target them.
Your mailing list also enables you to improve customer service and build better relationships with customers. By understanding your customers better, you can give them what they want.
Your guide to buying mailing lists
Buying a mailing list can be fraught with pitfalls, so here are my eight valuable pieces of advice to help you source the right mailing list
1. Don't delegate: I receive many enquiries from receptionists, apprentices or others who are not qualified to source marketing data. At the very least, the person sourcing the list should have an in-depth understanding of your marketing campaign objectives and target audiences. In our experience, delegation of data purchasing usually ends up with decisions being made on price only.
If you want to go down this route, you can just buy a cheap list from eBay and throw the budget and potentially your good reputation down the drain.
Even the business owner may not have much expertise in the nuances of marketing data. The safest route is to get expert impartial advice before you speak to data sales reps.
2. Don't believe the hype: All data list owners will tell you that their data is the best and that it is unique in the marketplace. The truth is it is all just hot air. When you speak to a mailing list company, you don't speak to the data experts, you speak to a sales person paid to tell you good things about their data.
So take what the sales person says with a pinch of salt and ask the right questions so you can compare the different lists that are available.
3. Don't ask silly questions: How good is your data? You might think this is a good question, and certainly it's one many people ask, but what answer are you expecting back?
I guarantee that all responders will give you a pre-prepared spiel that again leaves you with no tangible information about choosing a suitable list.
Questions to ask should cover guarantees, legalities and data suppressions, opt-in mechanisms and sources, samples, duplicate prevention and more. A good broker will ask these questions for you.
4. Don't believe that all data is equal: Would you buy a "genuine article" Rolex off a man in the pub for a tenner and expect it to be real? No, you wouldn't. But some small business owners do believe the hype from data sales people and then they wonder why their mail server is shut off, why they have complaints about spam and why the data owner is slow to return their complaint call.
5. Don't buy from people who are not experienced: I have seen many companies appearing recently claiming to be data experts. It's vital to work with companies that have good data credentials so that you get lists that comply with legal and ethical marketing standards.
6. Don't jump in with both feet: As a rule of thumb, data sales people prefer you to buy large amounts of data and therefore spend more money with them. They frequently come up with silly offers to tempt you into giving them a large chunk of their monthly sales target.
Then these offers come your way, take stock and work out whether it is actually worth your while to buy big chunks of untested data. As a rule of thumb, test first to validate the list before buying large volumes. And if it's too good an offer to be true, walk away.
7. But don't take the samples as gospel: If you have ever purchased a duff list after receiving a good sample, think about these questions before buying your next list: Do you think data companies realise the importance of good samples pre-sale? Do you think data companies have ever considered cleansing a sample before release?
8. Give data procurement the importance it deserves: Do your research. Adhere to direct marketing laws. Think of the ethics and brand implications of using poor quality and/or illegal marketing data. Buy from Direct Marketing Association (DMA) members only. And most importantly, speak to data experts. After all, would you fix your own car?
Lisa Hunter is an experienced Marketing, Events and Project Manager. She has over 10 years’ experience working in the IT and marketing industry, delivering strategic marketing support and managing creative projects for a wide-range of clients. In this blog she shares her knowledge and experiences…we hope you enjoy it.