Four Simple Rules for Better Mailing Lists

By Joseph Pych,

Your success depends on your mailing lists. According to late great Ed Mayer, the success of every direct marketing campaign depends on 40 percent mailing lists, 40 percent offer, and 20 percent everything else. In other words, pick bad mailing lists and you will certainly fail. Pick good ones and you are on the road to success.

Did you know there are more than 50,000 mailing lists available to you? I’ve come to believe there is a list for every purpose. If you are a catalog merchant trying to reach your niche buyers, there are good lists for you. If you are a non-profit trying to reach sympathetic donors, there are good lists for you. If you are a publisher trying to reach interested readers, there are good lists for you. So how can you find good lists for your business? Here are four simple rules to follow on your quest for better mailing lists.

Rule #1: Use a List Broker

If you are not currently working with a list broker, find one today. List brokers spend all day, every day thinking about mailing lists. Their raison d’etre is to find successful mailing lists for clients like you. List brokers know more about mailing lists than you ever will. Many have decades of experience in your industry and can tell you from memory which are the best lists to try and which are the worst ones to avoid. Your list broker will help you avoid costly mistakes. Plus, list brokers have access to powerful research tools to help them formulate targeted recommendations. And best of all, their services won’t cost you a penny! That’s because they are paid a commission from the list owner. So, buying a mailing list through a list broker won’t cost you any more than buying it directly. Using a list broker is the best money you will never spend.

Rule #2: Educate Yourself

You are now working with a list broker, so you can sit back and relax, right? No! You know your business better than your list broker ever will. You spend all day, every day thinking about your customers and strategies to grow your business. To get the best results, you must work in partnership with your list broker. To be a good partner, you need to educate yourself on the spectrum of relevant mailing lists and important details such as audience makeup, counts, pricing, selectivity, usage, and ordering restrictions.

To acquire this knowledge, you must gain access to a directory of mailing lists. In years past, it was difficult to get this information. Fortunately, today there are a variety of economical options available to direct marketers like you:

NextMark offers a free Mailing Lists Search Engine in the Find Mailing Lists section of its website (disclosure: NextMark is my firm)
Standard Rate and Data Services ( offers its Direct Marketing List Source for subscription rate of $649 per year.
Marketing Information Network ( offers a CD ROM version of its DataCard System for $299 per CD update.
Multi-channel Merchant ( offers a free List Finder in the Toolbox section of its website.
Direct Magazine ( also offers a free List Finder in the Resource Center section of its website.

Your list broker will certainly help you, too. They know an educated customer is a good customer. In fact, some leading list brokers have developed systems that enable their clients to participate in the research process by providing online access to mailing list information and list recommendations through their website. Ask your list broker if they offer this service.

Rule #3: Learn from Your Results

Direct marketing is a learning game. Test — measure — learn — test — measure — learn, etcetera. Before you mail, be sure to have the controls in place to measure the results of your campaign. This is often accomplished by assigning a unique key code for each mailing list. Responses are attributed to the appropriate key code as they arrive. When your campaign is complete, be sure to spend time analyzing the results. Determine which mailing lists worked. Determine which mailing lists failed. Why did some fail while others succeeded? This new knowledge will help you improve the results of your next campaign.

Rule #4: Share Your Results with your List Broker

For reasons I’ve yet to fully understand, some marketers are hesitant to share their results with their list broker. How can a list broker be expected to make good recommendations without understanding how well their past recommendations worked for you? You will get the best service from your broker when you treat them as a trusted advisor and a partner in your success. Share your results with your list broker.

Follow These Four Simple Rules and You Will Succeed

Finding good mailing lists is not easy – it will take time to partner with a list broker, to educate yourself, and to set up your learning cycle. Be diligent because it’s well worth it. With 40% of the success of your direct marketing campaigns riding on your list selections, your efforts will certainly be rewarded. Follow these four simple rules and before long you will be getting the best results you ever had. And, of course, you will then set your goals even higher!

Joseph Pych is founder and president of nextmark, a Hanover, NH-based provider of information and technology that makes it easy for you to buy, sell, and learn about mailing lists. He can be reached at