When a company that isn’t familiar with direct marketing first decides to develop a direct mail campaign, one of the first list sources they think about using is a compiled list. That’s natural, but not necessarily the best choice.

For instance, if you sell car stereo equipment you might look to find lists of new car buyers, and that’s a good idea. However, there is one big drawback to using compiled lists: you don’t know how responsive those on the list are to direct mail offers.

People on a compiled list might be in the market for what you have to offer, but they may not buy through the mail, preferring instead to buy through a retail store. You don’t know because compiled lists have no history of prior purchasing tendencies associated with them.

Typically, consumers who have purchased through the mail (respondents) will do so again. So when trying to sell your products and services through the mail it’s best to find lists of people who have bought the same type of product or service you sell or something similar to it. A good list broker can help you with that.

Many in the direct marketing industry recommend that you first look for good response lists to use and then compliment them with compiled lists. With advances in the way data can be cleansed and enhanced, compiled lists are much better than they were five or 10 years ago.

When putting together your list plan you need to think about both compiled lists and response lists. And the best way to see what will yield the most profit potential is to take a small, statistically valid, sample of several lists and test them. The ones that perform best, and give you an acceptable ROI, are the ones you’ll use at larger quantities when you roll out your mailing campaigns.