Many self publishers, book publishers, entrepreneurs, and home-based and small business owners are in the dark about mailing list rentals — how to order targeted, direct mailing lists – say for a direct marketing campaign, what to look for, and what to beware of. And they often make a few expensive mistakes. The following tips and trade secrets will help you avoid some of these mistakes and help you make better decisions when you seek out quality mailing list services.

First of all, generally, you rent, not buy mailing lists. They remain in the ownership of the mailing list company and are usually not for sale.

Many business owners rent lists but don’t use them right away, which is a mistake. Most lists change considerably in 30 days or less. Some lists, like mailing lists of public libraries, prisons, hospitals, hospital gift shops, elementary schools, high schools, colleges, universities, daily newspapers, TV stations and radio stations will have very few changes. They are fairly stationary so not as likely to move. Bookstore lists, new age bookstores lists, organization lists, specialty lists, MLM lists and business mailing lists may have a high rate of return. To avoid a lot of returns, rent the selected lists just prior to making your mailing.

Be careful about renting any mailing list that goes to individuals: consumer mailing lists, seniors mailing lists, residential mailing lists, homeowners mailing lists and opportunity seekers mailing lists, for example. With 20% of the population moving every year you may get significant returns.

But do expect some returns. As often as we mail using lists, we always get returns (called ‘nixies’ in the trade) from the post office. People move, forwarding orders expire, people expire, post office boxes close, and businesses close their doors.

Mailing list management and upkeep is expensive. It takes a lot of time and labor for companies to compile, add to, clean and mail to their lists and other necessary maintenance. They also use expensive mailing list software programs which can have costly bugs of their own.

To help you plan ahead, before you order your mailing lists, ask when you can expect the order to arrive. This can vary considerably from company to company. Some companies can take up to two weeks or more.

Mailing lists can usually be ordered in at least three formats – peel and stick (pressure-sensitive) labels or Cheshire (18 pound, spreadsheet-size computer paper–less common these days) or on a floppy disk (used less often these days) or CD. You order peel and stick labels if they’re going to be affixed to your mailing piece by hand. Or if you know how to import the lists you can order them on CD. If your mailing house is going to do your mailing they’ll probably prefer the floppy disk or CD – check with them on this before you order.

Mailing houses used to require the Cheshire format instead of peel and stick labels before the advent of computer technology and CD ROM. They have machines that cut the printed Cheshire sheets into labels and glue them to the envelopes. When ordering lists on CD, specify the format you want to use for conversion, usually ASCII comma-delimited. You must know how to import it when you get the disk though. The mailing lists will always be for one-time use only even if they’re on a CD or disk. And some mailing list companies offer instant downloads of lists.

Also if a mailing house is going to do your mailing, they may want the labels to be merged if there is more than one list, or bar-coded, which will save considerably on postage. If you can’t answer their technical questions, have your mailing house call your mailing list rental company to work out the final details.

Consider the cost to mail out your mailing piece. You might want to test a small number on the list first if you have an expensive or heavy package.

When you do mailings First Class, you’ll get returns from the post office at no additional charge. If you mail Third Class (bulk mail), you won’t get returns. They will be tossed out at the post office, UNLESS you’ve printed ‘Return Service Requested’ on the envelope. Then each return (nixie) will cost additional postage (based on first class), or ‘Change Service Requested’ (cost based on piece regardless of weight.) Make sure to check current costs with the post office because they change their rates AND rules periodically.

Always send any nixies back to your mailing list company, even if there aren’t enough for a credit, which is almost always offered. This is a good practice especially if you plan to mail again to the same list soon. They usually have a time limit as to when they can accept the nixies for credit because the lists you rented will become outdated fairly soon.

When you contract to rent a list, some mailing list companies may require a sample mailing piece. This is so the company can determine if you’re mailing a competitive or objectionable piece.

The business of mailing list rentals is based on the honor system to a degree, but this honor system also has a built-in alarm: owners protect their data by planting decoy names (seeds) in the mailing lists they rent. If a renter contracts to use a list on a one-time basis and uses it a second time, the decoy will receive the unauthorized mailing and report the misuse to the list owner. The decoys are often friends or relatives of the staff of the companies. Also, many mailing list companies employ companies that specialize in tracking or monitoring mailings to detect any misuse. Since decoys are different for each list order, the renter who abuses a contract is easy to trace.

Mailing lists are protected by copyright and trade secret law. Any violation of a list agreement is strictly upheld by the courts. Once a list rental contract has been broken, the list owner has legal recourse to sue for compensatory and punitive damages. Punitive damages could amount to as much as three times the value of the list and more.

All list owners have good reason to be so protective of their data. List rental is a multibillion-dollar business. There are literally thousands of lists available for rental in the United States alone.

If all else fails, you can enlist the help of a mail list broker. Brokers usually collect their fees from the mailing list company. Check this out first.

In any case caveat emptor! In any case you can reap rewards handsomely from sending out fliers, press releases, press kits, review copies of books and other materials via the direct mailing lists you choose.

These tips and trade secrets should help self publishers, book publishers, entrepreneurs, home based or work-at-home and small business owners make better decisions when working with mailing lists, mailing list rentals and mailing list companies.

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Five Tips For Renting Mailing Lists For Direct Mail Marketing

If you’re considering using direct mail as part of your marketing mix, it’s vital to understand what constitutes a good mailing list as well as ways to manage mailing list rentals to save money. The best mailing list you can use is your house file – the list of customers with whom you’ve already established a business relationship or who have inquired about your company’s products and services. Hands down, a house file out performs a rented list almost every time. Throughout my many years managing direct mail for large for profit and not for profit corporations, I always tested the house file against rented lists, and it was usually two for one; the house file outperformed rented lists twice as well.

While house files have an important place in the direct marketing mix, they cannot help you with prospecting or reaching new customers. That’s where rented mailing lists come into play. Mailing lists are never purchased but rather are rented for one or multiple times of use. Renters must enter into a contractual agreement with the list provider, promising never to sell or over mail to the list. How would they find out if you did? Each file is ‘seeded’ with names and addresses that are indistinguishable from the others on the list but contain the addresses of people employed to monitor and report list abuse. If you mail more than the amount of times you paid for, you will get fined by the list owner.

Before renting your first mailing list, there are five important considerations. Understanding each will not only help you save money on rental costs and mailings but can actually increase your response rate.

Five Mailing List Rental Considerations for Effective Direct Mail

1. Determine how many times you want to use the list.

Mailing lists are rented for a set number of uses. You cannot buy a list outright, nor can you rent it once and then use it multiple times without paying the list owner the appropriate rental fees. Consider renting a home. You wouldn’t pay for one month’s rent and then expect to live there your whole life rent-free, would you? List owners ‘seed’ mailing lists with recipients who track and monitor list usage. Begin your mailing list project by knowing how many times you plan to use your list. Most companies choose one time use until they know the list works for them.

2. Find the right list for your business.

Create a customer profile, outlining the demographics of the most likely customer. What are you selling? What do you want to get from your mailing? A pediatric dentist will rent an entirely different list from a hotel chain in a tourist town. Knowing your target customer and developing a specific profile helps you narrow down the myriad list choices. A basic customer profile outlines the gender, location, income, age bracket, and likes/dislikes of the customer. Companies that provide lists offer their customers many choices in selecting the right recipients. Often you will find selections along demographic information or recency of purchase or response. Choose the list selections that narrow down the target to the people most likely to respond to your offer. If the company offers names that have responded to offers in the last three months, a truism in direct marketing is that recent behaviors predict future behaviors, so it’s worth spending some money to rent these names. Companies who rent lists include InfoUSA, Walter Karl, and many others.

3. Order the appropriate output.

If you’re printing and mailing from a vendor, order an electronic file. The standard addressing method today is ink jet. Names, addresses, and bar codes that are easily read by post office machines are ink jet printed directly onto the mail piece. Small businesses who plan to send their own mailings may wish to order peel and stick labels. Ordering preprinted labels saves time. If ordering an electronic file, the file format called ASCI (pronounced “ask-eee”) easily converts into Excel, Access, or other standard software.

4. Choose response lists over compiled lists.

What’s the difference? A response lists is a mailing list based on purchasing behavior. Addresses on the list are from people who responded to various offers, whether it’s ordering from a direct television commercial or catalog to subscribing to a magazine. It’s a truism in direct marketing that past buying behavior is one of the best predictors of future behavior. There’s a greater statistical liklihood that people on the response list who bought gourmet cookware, for example, will respond to a cookbook offer.

The opposite of a response list is a compiled list. These lists are typically generated on publicly available data, such as telephone books. There’s no indication of what the person may be interested in. Basic demographic data is usually available and is based on appending records such as census data to a compiled list. These may be useful for offers limited to a geographic area and of mass appeal, such as a new auto repair store opening announcement. In that example, the automotive store simply wants addresses from a particular local area and doesn’t much care if the people at the addressses have bought car parts, accessories or other car related items. Chances are pretty good that folks living at the addresses have a car, so the compiled list may be worth using.

Compiled lists generally cost less to rent that response lists.

5. Save nixies.

Nixies aren’t little mythical creatures like fairies or elves. It’s the direct marketer’s lingo for returned mail. Many list companies offer a return policy. The policy varies according to the company, but some with whom I’ve worked have either given back pennies per bad address or a complete refund. Have a policy and system in place at your company to gather and process the returned mail. At the least, you’ll need to correct any house file addresses that are bad; and if you can get a few pennies credit for each returned piece of mail, so much the better.

The next time you need to rent a mailing list, use these considerations. You’ll get a better response, save money, and build your marketing efforts into a money making machine. When in doubt, consult with professional direct marketing experts to help you find and order the best mailing list for the job.

Jeanne Grunert is a well known direct and online marketing

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