A quick glance through the piles of colorful pieces in almost any day’s mail is a strong testimony to the strength of direct mail as a marketing method. Companies use direct mail because it works. The evidence of its effectiveness is in your mailbox — and mine.

The general rule of thumb for direct mail success is that it’s 40% offer, 40% list, and 20% printed piece. The numbers are interdependent, however, not separate. Thus, a strong offer and a pretty piece sent to a lousy list do not give you a 6-in-10 chance of having a successful mailing. Without an up-to-date, targeted list, your mailing is without potential.

Mailing lists come from a variety of sources, including:

  • House List — This is your in-house database. Computer software programs can help you segment your lists with fields for dates of service, dollar amount, job type, prospects, and other information. By doing this, you can immediately fire off a letter or postcard to the most likely respondents.
  • Rented Lists — This is acquired from a mailing service or list broker, with two types to choose from. "Compiled lists," which are particularly useful is you want to reach a certain geographic area, are compiled from public records or other available data such as phone books and credit files. People move all the time, so you'll want to make sure these lists are updated at least monthly.
  • Someone Else's House List — Wouldn't it be nice if other companies would just give you their leads? Actually, that thought is not entirely far-fetched. A "partnered" list comes from the house list of a non-competitor. That could mean a plumber who doesn’t do HVAC. Other home services businesses like lawn care, pest contro,l or whatever are also options. Typically, your partner will introduce and recommend you in a letter — asking his customers to trust you for the important service you provide.

Never underestimate the importance of your mailing list. It’s the essential factor for generating response — and your best means of reaching the right people at the right time with the right offer.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a marketing firm for contractors. Readers can get a free marketing newsletter by faxing their letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115. You can also call Hudson, Ink at 800/489-9099 for help or visit www.hudsonink.com for many free marketing articles and reports.