Twelve Places to Buy a Mailing List

©2004 Jeffrey Dobkin

There are two types of lists, determined by their origin: compiled lists and response lists.

Compiled lists are a common source of names and records that have been gathered, collected, and entered into a database. The names may have been acquired through public records such as vehicle owner registrations or high school teachers. Directories, such as a directory of plant maintenance engineers, are usually compiled lists. Many lists are compiled from categories in phone books across the U.S. Examples would be all the photography shops or all the luggage dealers in the United States. Or all the plumbing supply dealers.

Keep in mind that compiled information - like fish - gets old rather quickly and doesn't age particularly well.

Response lists are data from people who have responded to an ad or who have purchased from a catalog, direct mail package, TV ad,or other offer.

With any mailing you are considering, first ask precisely what groups or what characteristics make up the perfect audience. Then try to find a list that matches these definable characteristics closely.

Good delivery percentages of your mailing piece to a specific audience can usually be found in lists of magazine subscribers. These lists are usually very targeted to their audience, and good because most publishers are extremely prompt with their name and address corrections. Call a magazine publisher and ask if their subscriber list is for sale, then ask for the name of their list broker.

There are over 10,000 magazines published so you can probably get a magazine subscription list that goes straight to your perfectly targeted buyers. If you're not sure what magazines would be best, there are some easy-to-use periodical directories found in most reference libraries. The best directories of magazines are Burrelle's Directory of Magazines (800-USMEDIA), Bacons (800-621-0561), SRDS (800-851- SRDS), and Oxbridge Communications Standard Periodical Directory (800-955-0231). If you can't find the exact targeted magazine filled with the eager-to-buy-your-product subscribers you are looking for in any of these directories, the publication doesn't exist. You can find any industry - and all the magazines that are sent to that industry - in under 10 minutes in these useful directories.

Catalog houses earn a good portion of their revenue from the sale of their lists. Call the catalog and ask for their business office, then ask who handles their list sales. Almost all catalog houses sell their lists. Catalog houses can be found in the Catalog of Catalogs from Woodbine House Publications (www.woodbinehouse.com; 800-843-7323; $28.95 PPD), and The Directory of Mail Order Catalogs from Grey House Publishing (www.greyhouse.com; 800-562-2139; $250).

Trade associations are usually an excellent source of mailing lists. Better associations always list the industry's major players. Local associations like the Chamber of Commerce in your area are usually good for local business names. You can select by business size, number of employees, SIC code (the government's industry classification of each business), or any of a multitude of other selection parameters. Two great sources for finding associations are reference books from Columbia Books, Inc. (888-265-0600; www.columbiabooks.com) publishers of the State and Regional Associations Directory ($79) and The National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States ($99). Mailing lists of the associations are $100/M and are available on labels or disk.

Association lists and data are also available in the Encyclopedia of Associations by The Gale Group (800-877-GALE) on disk, CD, and on- line through Lexis-Nexis. This hardbound, three-volume set ($505) is the motherload of associations - showing detailed information on more than 23,000 local, state, national, and international associations.

Trade show lists are also great marketing tools - lists of both attendees and of exhibitors. Check out two great websites: www.tscentral.com and www.tradeshowweek.com for trade show information. The Tradeshow Week Data Book (213-965-5300; $355) is a great tool published by the editors of Tradeshow Week Magazine. Another great trade show directory is the TradeShows and Exhibits Schedule from Bill Communications (800-266-4712, 856-619-5800) - organized by industry, by location, by date, and in alphabetical order for fast look-ups.

Two excellent resources for investigating lists at the library are the SRDS Direct Marketing List Source? (800-851-SRDS) and the Oxbridge Communications National Directory of Mailing Lists (800-955- 0231). We use both in our own office - they're thorough and exceptionally easy to use. These reference tools are each about the size of the Manhattan phone book and contain nothing but list data: who owns what list, number of records in each, source of names and, list pricing. Both tools are available in major libraries.

List brokers are found in the phone book in every major city. They can be heaven, supplying incredible information, or hell, looking for that fast buck. Make sure you ask tons of questions before handing over any money. While you pay the broker, he actually works for the list owner - so take that into consideration when you ask questions and negotiate price.

A plethora of list managers of mailing lists can be found in the direct mail trade magazines such as Catalog Age & Direct Magazines: 203/ 358-9900, Target Marketing: 215/238-5300, Direct Marketing: 516/746- 6700, and DM News: 212/741-2095.

Some list brokers sell through their own catalog of mailing lists. These handy reference tools will give you an idea of just what's out there - what kind of lists are available and counts of how many records exist in the thousands of different list categories. Want to know how many dentists there are? It's a piece of cake: 190,168 are members of the ADA. Want to know if there is a list of picky ale drinkers? Find the list of "Ale in the Mail-Continuity Members:" 70,973 of them. Selling an accounting product? Try the list of Accounting Institute Seminar Attendees - all 78,634 of them. Looking for college professors? Did you want the 43,347 who teach English, or the 18,184 who teach history, or the 8,477 in marketing, or the 9,194 philosophy teachers, or the?

If you need additional information - like how many doctors who specialize in allergies and are the head of their practice with four or more employees can be found in Pennsylvania - call any of these catalog houses and ask them to run a count. You'll be able to get that information in about ten minutes. Hugo Dunhill: 800/223-6454, American Business Lists: 800/555-5335, Best Mailing Lists: 800/692- 2378, CompilersPlus: 800/431-2914, and Edith Roman: 800/223-2194 to name just a few. More phone numbers can be found in my books Uncommon Marketing Techniques and How To Market A Product For Under $500!

Several companies now offer lists of every business or every person in the U.S. on CD-ROM. These products allow you to create your own list criteria and generate your own precisely targeted mailing lists. Some of the better programs make it easy and fast to use their CD-ROM products. Mailing list CDs are available from InfoUSA: 800/321-0869, and Global Business International: 407/568-5037 to name but two.

One of the best resources for lists is the Internet. There's no getting around it now, the Internet is here to stay - you might as well get on and get used to it. It's a great - probably the best - research tool available for almost anything, if you can filter out the crap from the good stuff. But? isn't that the way with all research tools: you gotta figure out which is the good stuff that you can use, and which is the bad stuff that you've just spent the last two hours looking over and have now figured out is pretty worthless.

You'd be surprised how many of your competitors will sell your their customers' names. If not competitors, how about asking other businesses who serve your market if you can purchase their mailing lists.

Of course, the best list of all - bar none - is your own house list of current and past customers. These are the folks that know you and trust you; they've experienced that great customer service you offer and are now willing to buy something else from you if you would only let them know it's available.

Spend some extra time in this most important area - list research: tighten your list criteria, do your homework, spend time in research, and find the best lists you can possibly find. Then test several. It's worth the extra time and money to target your audience with precision and increase the chance you'll come up a winner at the post office. There is no single more important factor in creating a greater response to a mailing than mailing to the best possible list. Whatever you do, don't settle for a mediocre list unless you want mediocre results.

Jeffrey Dobkin, author of the incredible 400-page marketing manual How To Market a Product for Under $500. To place an order, or to speak with Mr. Dobkin call 610/642-1000. Fax 610/642-6832. From The Danielle Adams Publishing Company, Box 100, Merion Station, PA 19066. Or visit him at www.dobkin.com. Satisfaction Guaranteed.

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