Your job as a direct mail marketer is two fold and very simple in theory: get the right message to the right audience. That oversimplifies direct mail, of course, but that’s what you’re trying to do. Of the two, the most important is targeting the right audience.

You can have the perfect selling message in your direct mail package, but if you miss the mark, and send it to the wrong audience, you’re campaign is doomed to fail. A mediocre selling message to the right audience will do much better.

A mailing list is made up of names and addresses, and you can target businesses or individuals. You rent lists as opposed to buying them, and you can rent a list for one-time use, an agreed-to number of uses or unlimited use. Keep in mind that the one who rents the list to you will put “seed” names into their lists to keep you honest.

If you use the list outside the agreement you will get caught; however, once someone on the list contacts you, whether they buy or ask for more information, they are now your customer and you can then use that name any way you want.

Following are some of the different types of lists you can rent.

Compiled lists
These lists are from a common source such as a phone book. They’re inexpensive, but they generally don’t perform very well.

Publisher lists
These lists come from subscribers to a particular magazine like Time Magazine, Sports Illustrated or Better Homes & Gardens™. Generally speaking, lists from niche market magazines (such as woodworking, quilting or hunting) will yield better response rates than general interest magazines (for instance, People magazine). A special interest newsletter may not have a large audience, but if it has strong appeal to your target market it can be very profitable to mail.

Mail order buyer lists
These lists are made up of people who have responded to direct mail in the past. They have a proven history of buying through the mail, and they generally respond better than people on compiled lists.

Donor lists
These are valuable lists because people who have donated to one cause are excellent prospects to give to another cause they believe in. The source for these lists are normally non-profit organizations.

House lists
You get these lists from a specific company or a company that manages their list rentals for them. Sometimes you can work out a deal with companies who sell like products, or companion products, and trade lists so that both of you benefit.

Once you’ve selected your lists you can further refine them using demographics, geographics or psychographics (lifestyle indicators such as pilots, travelers or boat owners). You will also want to look at the frequency of purchases, recency of purchases, and the amount of the purchase.