Choosing Your Perfect List: Compiled vs Response Mailing Lists

When it comes to creating a successful direct mail campaign—one where you get a great response—a good list will always be the number one component. But how you choose that mailing list depends on a variety of factors. The best mailing list for one campaign may not be the best list for another, so you need to know the different list types to determine which is right for you. There are essentially two types of mailing lists: compiled lists and response lists. So that’s a good place to start in narrowing down what will best serve you.

Compiled Versus Response Mailing Lists

In a nutshell, the definitions of the two types of mailing list are:

  • Compiled Files: large databases that have been created from phone books, credit files, and various public record sources, such as the county tax assessor records. You can usually get a compiled list in one business day.
  • Response Files: Response lists (also called managed lists) are comprised of people who have purchased or inquired about a particular product or service. Typical response list sources are magazines, membership clubs, catalogs, warranty cards, etc. You can usually get your response list in three to five business days.

One is not inherently better than the other. What makes one better for a specific campaign gets down to who you are targeting and what you are selling.

Compiled Lists

Compiled lists are excellent for mass marketing, especially if you have a limited budget. A new local business with a broad appeal, such as a pizza place, would do well with this type of list. And you can narrow these lists down—technology and the widespread availability of additional data mean you can search on demographic information, such as gender, age, and income level as well.

Compiled lists work best when you:

  • Have a limited marketing geography.
  • Want to reach all households or businesses in an area.
  • Want to reach all households or businesses that fit certain demographic criteria.
  • Are on a limited budget.
  • Want to mail fewer than 5,000 pieces.
  • Want to make telemarketing follow-up calls before or after your mailing.

If none of those criteria fit your business, you may want to look at a response list.

Response Lists

If you are selling a very specific product or service, it makes sense to market it to people who you know are interested. How do you know? Because they subscribe to magazines on the subject or belong to an association whose members traditionally buy your product. For example, if you’re selling a new type of golf shoe, getting your hands on the Golf Digest mailing list would be very useful. While response lists are perfect for getting you in front of buyers you know to be interested, there are two things you should be prepared for when you purchase one:

  1. Response lists are more expensive than compiled lists. This is because they are more targeted and you have more assurances about the buyers’ behaviors.
  2. Almost every single response list will require a sample mail piece for approval—the list owner wants to protect their reputation and make sure you are sending a quality offer to their list.

A response list may be right for you if your product has a relatively high price point or is a luxury item. Using a targeted response list of people who have purchased goods or requested information on a similar or complimentary product will produce the best results. The list cost will be greater, but the ROI will probably be greater as well.

A word of caution about response lists though: unlike compiled lists that are updated and verified regularly, the list hygiene for these lists is not always a priority for the list owner. Make sure you ask when the list was last updated before you purchase it.

A reputable list broker is your best resource for helping you choose which type of mailing list is right for your campaign goals, and for helping you find a response list that will generate a high ROI.

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