Mailing List Printing Knowledge
Mailing List

List Handling | List Types | List Selection | Format Types | List Maintenance

The mailing list plays a very important part in the success of your direct mail campaign. Choosing a list that will get to the right market is extremely important. You must carefully analyze the list before selecting it. There are thousands of lists available today. The lists are broken down into different types. Choosing the right one is not an easy task. To be effective, the lists must be properly maintained. List owners, compliers, managers, and brokers all have their own roles to play in the selection process and in the maintenance of the lists.

List Handling

Mailing lists are handled by different types of services, each having different responsibilities. Some providers may offer a combination of services. The different types of services offered are listed below.

List Owners

List owners are companies that have compiled a mailing list from responses that they have received from previous offers, such as magazine subscriptions, book or CD club memberships, donations, or product/service offers.

List Compilers

Compilers are also list owners but their lists have not been built through responses. Their lists are compiled from records of information, taken from such items as product warranties or registrations, birth records, property transfers, surveys and membership registrations.

List Managers

The manager works for the list owner to market their lists to mailers and list brokers. List managers will also coordinate the rental and accounting activities of the list. They are responsible for preparing the lists according to customer specifications and making sure the list is delivered on time. List managers may be employed by the list owner or may be part of a list management company.

List Broker

Specialized in handling the selection of an appropriate mailing list for the mailer. They may be selecting a list for the mailer to buy or rent. The broker uses past experience and will do the necessary research to enable them to recommend to the mailer, a list that will provide the profitability the mailer is hoping to obtain.

List Processor

The list processor is the one who is doing any type of maintenance or preparation of the list to get it ready for the final "output" to be sent to the printer or lettershop. For more information on maintaining a mailing list, see List Processing. The list processor may be an independent data processing facility or it may be associated with the mailer, list owner, list manager, list broker, the printer or the lettershop.

List Types

There are several different types of lists available. Some will have better response rates than others. Understanding the benefits of each will help in determining when to use a particular type.

Response Lists

Next to your own house list, which is made up of your own company's customers and inquirers, a response list will generally give you your best response rate. This list consist of names of consumers who have responded to a previous offer, whether they made a purchase or an inquiry. Generally, a response list is someone else's house list that has been made available to rent to non-competitors.

Because the people on the response list have responded to a previous offer, you know that they are the type of people who will respond if properly motivated. Also, because of previous responses, you can collect other useful information about the people. Information, such as how recent the response, how frequent, type of offers and special interest, can all be compiled as the result of a previous response. All this information is valuable when evaluating which mailing list will provide you with the best response for your mailing.

Compiled Lists

Compiled lists are built with names and information take from sources such as phone books, club or association memberships, vehicle registrations, warranty cards and voter registrations. The compiled list differs from the response list in that there is no indication that the people on the compiled list are willing to respond to an offer. The compiled lists offer an opportunity to cover a large market area. They can include both psychographics and demographic characteristics.


Characteristics that reflect lifestyle, attitudes, personal values and purchasing habits.


Economic and social information about a group of people which includes sex, age, education, income, residence type, family size, car ownership, etc.


Compiled lists can be segmented also by demographic and/or psychographics characteristics that allow you to select a group of people that have similar interests and likes that more clearly identify with the product/service that you are offering.

Survey Lists

Survey lists are complied from information obtained through surveys that ask questions about personal interests, lifestyles, product preferences, purchasing intentions, hobbies, occupations, and illness. Survey lists are used in the same way as the compiled lists but have been built off direct-response from the customer. But, just because the customer responded to the survey does not mean he will respond to the offer you present. Survey lists can contain very specific information which allows you to segment a list to relate to a specific offer, hopefully, to result in a profitable response.

Business Lists

There are compiled business lists available to use for selling to business prospects. The business lists are classified by the government's Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) numbering systems. The companies are classified according to the main activity that they provide. Each  company is assigned a two digit code and can have up to four more codes added which divides them into subcategories. The SIC numbering system is a big advantage in trying to locate your best prospects.

In 2000, the North American Industry Classification (NAICS) systems will be used to organize the Census Data for businesses. This new system will be a major improvement in the business classifications and will most likely be adopted by list compliers as soon as the files can be obtained. The new system will add about 350 new industries for classification. The NAICS system divides the economy into 20 sectors instead of 10 as it was before. The NAICS is a six digit system which allows for a much more precise definition of the different industries and occupations.

Business response lists are also available and as with consumer lists, are bound to result in a better response rate than the business compiled list. The problem is that there are not many business response lists available for the different business segments.

House Lists

A house list is a company's own list of customers or inquirers. Any business asking for a direct response should be concerned with building their own mailing lists form the responses they receive. The house list will be a company's best source for future business. Once a house list is built, it can bring in additional income by being rented out to non-competitors.

List Selection

There are many points to consider when choosing a mailing list. You can choose a list on your own but using the services of a list broker, who is experienced in selecting lists, can be beneficial to the outcome of your direct mail campaign. The list brokers are knowledgeable about what lists have worked for other clients and which ones haven't. They are staffed to keep the information on the lists up to date and the cost is usually no more than if you ordered the list directly.

The most important reason for selecting a list is affinity. Affinity is the logical connection between your direct mail offer and the prospects on the mailing list. For example, if you were promoting the sale of subscriptions to a new computer technology magazine, you may be interested in a list of companies that have their own IT departments, or companies that have purchased networking equipment in the past year. Once the potential lists have been selected, they should be grouped into categories that make them of interest to you. Then evaluate the lists in the different categories and decide which lists in each category has the most potential to succeed.

Segmented Lists

The lists can be segmented into subcategories for testing. Segmenting into subcategories will generally increase the cost of the lists. Some common ways in which lists are segmented are shown below.

  • Segmented by gender, by state and Zip code to be used for geographic and demographic characteristics.
  • Recency - The amount of time it took the prospects to respond to the offer. The less the better.
  • Frequency - How often the prospect has made a purchase. The more times the better.
  • Purchase Amount - The amount of the highest purchase the prospect has made.
  • Segmented by prospect's professions or personal interests.
  • Characteristics such as credit card, cash or credit buyers, and single or multiple purchase buyers.

The options shown above are only a few of the ways in which a list can be segmented. Select the segmented lists that relate best to your offer. Then you will need to decide on test quantities. Be sure your test quantities are a good representation of your list, but the bulk of the list should be reserved for the rollout quantity. Rollout quantities should be approximately five to ten times higher than test quantities. You may have to use several lists to build your test quantities and then combine them so that you can build a large enough rollout quantity. This may be necessary for your campaign to have the potential to meet your expectations. 

Buy or Rent Lists?

Once you have selected the lists for your mailing, you will need to decide if it is best to buy or rent the lists. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

List Buying


  • Builds a database immediately
  • Can use repeatedly
  • Can rent your lists out for additional income
  • Can refuse to rent list to competition


  • List may not be successful
  • Insufficient hardware or software for maintaining the list
  • May not have time or staff to maintain the list properly

List Rental


  • Can build database of responders only
  • Lists are maintained and up to date when rented
  • Eliminates the cost of having to maintain the lists in house


  • Can only use list one time per rental
  • No list rental income available


When ordering your mailing lists to buy or rent, from a list broker or directly from the list owner, there are many details that need to be provided. The details for each list may vary. Shown below are details that you will need to provide. If you are using a list that you own, these details need to be provided to your list manager.

Mailing List Order Details


Provide the name of the list and details on how you want the list segmented, such as "Buyers from the last 6 months," "Females 40 years old or older," and "Buyers of products $75 and over.


Request the quantity of records you want from the quantity available. Sometimes you will not know the exact quantity, for example, you may want all the available names in a segmented list. In this case, request an exact list count from the list owner.

Delivery Guarantee

Be sure you request a guarantee of deliverability from the list owner. 95 percent should be acceptable by the list buyer and list owner. List owner should agree to pay the minimum postage rate on all mail returned in excess of the 5 percent figure. The delivery guarantee is an incentive to list owner s to keep their lists up to date.


Give the expected mailing date. Your list will generally be protected from use by competition one week before and one week after the scheduled mailing date. If longer protection period is needed, you will have to make special arrangements.

Test Quantity

Indicate how you want the names to be selected for the test quantity. The standard practice is to request an "Nth-name sample". The "Nth-name" is where the total list quantity is divided by the test quantity to find the "Nth" value. Example: A 300,000 name list used for a 15,000 test quantity would result in a "20th-name" sampling. The test list would consist of every 20th name from the mailing list.

Key Coding

Assign key codes to be given to your list so that key numbers can be included in the list when you receive it. Key codes will allow you to track information on your mailing.

Seed Names

Seed names, which include name and addresses that you supply, should be sent with the list order. Seed names are used to check the accuracy of the mailing house and the delivery time of the postal service.

Multiple Mailing Use

If you will be using the same list for multiple mailings, order it for all of them at one time. Generally, list owners will rent the lists for repeated use, for a series mailing, at a substantially reduced cost.

Sample Mailing

The list order should include a clear description for the product being offered. A sample mailing piece should be included with the order for approval of the list owner. The list owner will check for integrity of the product and to see if the list is being requested by a competitor.

List Format

What format should the list be in, mag tape, labels, or hard copy? For different format types, see Format Types.

Special Instructions

Include any other special instructions not covered by the specifications listed above.

Format Types

Mailing lists are available in several formats. The format used for your mailing will depend on the output capabilities of the list owner and the capabilities of the lettershop that will be addressing the mailing piece. You should check the capabilities of each before deciding on the format you would like to use. The available formats are listed below.

Magnetic Tape

Magnetic tapes are used by many large mailers. The tapes are sent to a list processor for maintenance or to the lettershop for personalization on high speed printers, laser printers or ink-jet printer. Magnetic tape is the format preferred by most list processors and lettershops.

CD Rom or Diskettes

The list can be supplied on different types of diskettes available today. You must be sure that the format is compatible with both the list owner and the lettershop.


List can be e-mailed but capabilities and limitations should be discussed before choosing this format to deliver mailing lists.

Cheshire Labels

Cheshire labels are made of white computer paper, which is cut into label sized pieces (approximately 3 5/16" x 1"). They are glued onto the mailing package by a special piece of equipment called the Cheshire machine. The Cheshire label format is one of the original formats used for mailing lists.

Pressure Sensitive Labels

Pressure sensitive labels are self adhesive labels supplied on a continuous carrier. The label is peeled off and affixed to the mailing piece by machine.

Hard Copy Listing

Generally a hard copy of the mailing list is provided to the mailer to use for reference and checking accuracy of the list.

Card Files

Card files are individual records printed on 3 x 5 cards or on a form that is one or more parts. They are given to the salespeople or used for other prospecting purposes. They may include information about the company's sales volume, number of employees, telephone numbers, types of products or services, and the names of some of the company executives.

If the mailing list is not furnished in label format, the format selected will be used to produce labels or to direct image the address onto the mail piece. Whatever format is selected, be sure that it is acceptable to the list owner, list processors and the lettershop. Be sure the list is clearly marked with your company name, key numbers, purchase order numbers and drop dates.

List Maintenance

All mailing lists need periodic maintenance performed on them. The lists need to be kept up to date by adding, deleting and correcting addresses. The updating can be accomplished manually but can be very time consuming. There is software that will do many different functions related to up-dating your mailing lists to make it as efficient as possible. Trying to do your own list maintenance in house can be very time consuming and costly. It requires sophisticated computer equipment and software, and someone who understands all the requirements.

List maintenance services are available through list processors who are professionals in the maintenance area. They can guarantee that your lists can be processed by the necessary certified software and that it will meet all the USPS address requirements. For more details on the services provided by list processors, see List Processing.


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