On the surface, direct mail marketing seems pretty simple and straightforward: You purchase or compile a mailing list, create a mailing, and send it. Then you sit back and tabulate the results, analyse the data to see what worked or didn’t work, and apply those lessons to the next wave. Then, repeat the process until you have honed your technique to an automatic point.
In practice, this is much more difficult and involved, for a variety of reasons. Most of these reasons are fairly obvious once you get into it: Analytics can be challenging, and figuring out what, exactly, about your designs and mailing that work or don’t work is a subtle science. But the main reason direct mail campaigns fail is less obvious: It’s your mailing lists.
Whether you’ve purchased a list or built one yourself from customer data or other DIY methods (like a web contact form), one thing is always true: No mailing list in history has ever been 100% accurate. Typos, purposeful deceptions, and outdated information combine to render some portion of your mailing list inaccurate. The higher that proportion, the less effective your campaign will be – but the costs of an inaccurate list are both obvious and non-obvious.
The Obvious Problems
Inaccuracy in your mailing lists has several negative impacts on your marketing campaigns that are fairly obvious:
- Wasted time: You put a lot of effort into your mailing, and when you get half of them back due to outdated address information, it renders all that time wasted.
- Wasted money: Your mailings cost money, and when they come back due to an inaccurate mailing list they’re in no shape to be re-used, and all that money goes into the garbage with them.
These negative impacts are obvious, but their importance can’t be under-sold: Without these obvious consequences of a bad or unmaintained mailing list, you might not discover how inaccurate your list is or has become.
The Non-Obvious Problems
There are plenty of other important negative consequences of an inaccurate mailing list that aren’t always so obvious. Yes, it wastes time and money, but the negative impact goes far beyond these simple metrics.
- Negative impression. Not all mailings sent to an inaccurate list will bounce back to you as undeliverable. Many will be delivered to sound addresses, but be received by new tenants or homeowners who may not match your demographic. These people will not be impressed by your mailing, or interested, and may in fact take a negative impression away because it will be obvious your campaign was not well-organised. An even worse situation exists if your mailing was personalised, as you now have a very personal greeting sent to the wrong person, which may result in an active dislike for your business.
- Hidden Waste. While returned mailings are clear signs that you have just wasted all sorts of money and time, most mailings sent to inaccurate addresses won’t be returned. They’ll be delivered and thrown away. This can result in repeatedly wasting time and money – you think you’re gaining exposure to your demographic, when in fact you’re paying to gain exposure to their waste baskets.
- Missed Opportunities. While your mailing are being tossed into a garbage can, your competitors, using accurate and updated mailing lists, may well be stealing your thunder and taking on all the potential customers you were hoping to pick up with your mailing.
In short, inaccurate mailing list data could be causing your business all kinds of harm, both seen and unseen. Keeping those lists updated should therefore be a priority.
Strategies for Accuracy
How can you ensure that your mailing lists are accurate?
If you purchase your lists, you should follow a simple dual path: First, buy lists from reputable, targeted firms, and follow a ‘on strike’ policy: If you get one bad list that wastes your time, don’t use them a second time. Next, build in a budget to purchase a fresh list on a regular basis. Don’t expect a five-year old list to perform for you.
If you build your own lists, freshen it on a regular basis by first never turning off your information-gathering portals (web forms, customer feedback, order records) and second by constantly updating them. Every returned mailing should be noted, and every new contact should be added to your list on an ongoing basis.
Your mailing lists are the lifeblood of your direct mail campaigns. Working with blinders on and assuming your mailings are having an impact even as returns flood back and response rates dive is simply foolish: It would be nice to imagine you can ‘get by’ with a single list purchase and some positive thinking, but the fact is if you want your marketing to actually work, you need to take steps to ensure it goes where it’s supposed to.