Getting Started Compiling and Maintaining a Mailing List

Starting to collect proper information to create a mailing list is not difficult, once you know how to proceed. In this report, uses for mailing lists are briefly described. The first steps in identifying the names that might be included on your mailing list are also outlined. Finally, the important concept of a database is introduced.

Ways to Use a Mailing List

Mailing lists are a versatile tool that your business or organization can use to help achieve many administrative and marketing objectives.

  1. In Daily Administration: For-profit and nonprofit organizations alike use mailing lists constantly in their day-to-day operation. Well-maintained mailing lists are required to efficiently carry out important activities such as:

    • updating employee phone lists.

    • sending company newsletters and special notices to employees. * compiling membership directories.

    • sending out newsletters to organization members.

    • determining school bus routes.

    • tracking and evaluating suppliers.

    • monitoring contract commitments and schedules.

    • alerting customers about warranty dates.

  2. In Marketing:

    But it is in the marketing area that mailing lists can really make a contribution to the "bottom line." Much of the information in this report can be used for all list needs. Selling through the mail via a catalog is one basic example of a marketing application where a mailing list plays a very important role. The list is the source of names to which the catalog is mailed. Today, organizations of any size can benefit from using a mailing list in marketing functions.

Here are some other marketing uses for which a mailing list is a critical ingredient:

You will find that the administrative and marketing uses for mailing lists are almost endless. How many of the ones we've described above would benefit your business or organization?

In the next section, we will define the different types of lists you can develop.

Types of Lists

From a business or organizational point of view, everyone is not equal. Just as a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, existing customers are worth more than potential customers. The same principle applies to mailing lists. They can be divided into four types, according to the value of the names they contain:

  1. Current Customer: Your list of current customers contains your most valuable names. They have already bought your products or used your services. They are the people or companies most likely to respond again to your future offers.

    In this booklet we refer to these names as "customers." However, depending on your type of business or organization, the term "customer" can also include a whole range of people (or organizations) such as:

    • clients of professional service firms.

    • donors who contribute time, money or goods to fundraising campaigns.

    • investors in a business or stock issue.

    • patients of health care practices.

    • policyholders in an insurance agency.

    • members of an association, religious or cultural institution, or club.

    • subscribers to a magazine or newsletter.

    • users of a sports or recreational facility.

  2. Inquiries: Businesses or individuals who have contacted your organization to request something - catalog, sample, quote, or perhaps just information - are more likely to respond to your offers than others who have not shown an interest in you. Further, the faster you are able to contact an inquiry with an answer, the more likely it is that he or she will react positively to your next offer.

  3. Prospects:

    Prospects are potential customers. They are people who have not yet responded to your offers nor inquired about your organization. However, you have reason to believe that they may have a need for or interest in your product or service. You also expect that these prospects have the ability to pay (if you're selling a product or service).

    (A smart way to look at your customers is to also view them as prospects to be wooed and won for other products or services. Never take a customer for granted. For example, a customer who has bought only one product or service from you may be a prospect - and a very good one - for the other products and services you offer.)

  4. Suspects: Suspects are prospects who may have some potential to become customers, but their need for your product or service (and their ability to pay) is uncertain. Developing a mailing list of suspect names should probably be the lowest priority for your business or organization.

For each type of mailing list you create - customer, prospect, inquiry, or suspect - you will want to keep basically the same descriptive information (data) on each of the names you include. If you can keep and maintain the same data on each of your customers, you can find which common characteristics are processed by your best customers. If you can then find prospects which closely match those characteristics, you have a greater chance of success in your prospect mailings.

The next step, in creating your mailing list, is deciding on the data you should try to capture for each of the names.

What Data to Include in Your Mailing List Records

This section of the report offers some preliminary guidance in making the necessary decision about which piece of descriptive information, or "data element," to include in your mailing list records.

When you are identifying the data elements you want to include in your mailing list, you are really laying the groundwork for your database.

"Database" is a popular term among mailing list specialists today. However, the concept of a data base is fairly simple. A database is a collection of information about your customers, organized so it can be easily expanded, updated, and accessed by any of a number of its component parts or variable. Mailing information (name, address, etc.) is part, but not all, of a database.

Why is a database so important? Let's begin by reviewing some basic principles:

Therefore, to make decisions about what data elements to include in your database, first determine what common characteristics your customers share. For example:

These are just a few of the characteristics your customers may share.

The following questions don't apply to prospects, but they can also help you determine who your best customers are:

The better you understand your best current customers, the better you will be able to identify the data you want to maintain about potential customers.

Other Database Details

A database is organized into "fields." Each type of data elements in the database is stored in its own field; for example: name, address, business type or household income, etc.

Much of the information you will include in your data base is now in your internal files. In most businesses and organizations there are paper trails, such as sales slips or membership applications, that contain a great deal of information about current customers.

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