IF THIS book accomplishes nothing more than to bring home to its readers the supreme importance of the mailing list as a basis of any direct mail advertising success, it will have been worth any effort and expense that its production may have involved. Everybody admits that a good mailing list is essential; yet by some strange fatuity most advertisers neglect it. The Beckett Paper Company still receives occasionally mailing pieces addressed to a gentleman who has been dead nearly fifteen years. Recently the writer had occasion to work with a small section of the mailing list of a very alert and well-conducted New York business. Yet many errors ‘developed. One man wrote us that he had lived in Chicago for ten years past, but his name lingered on a list that is certainly given more attentive consideration than ninety-five per cent of all mailing lists used in America.
We have said that the first step for any advertiser is to study his possible market and to decide what people or classes of people should be interested in his product. A Chicago business man wrote a letter to one of the advertising journals recently in which he said that he had been receiving a series of letters and advertisements urging him to patronize a garage for the storage and care of his automobile; yet this garage was situated three miles from his office and five miles from his residence. Thus by simple failure to study his market the garage man not only wasted expensive advertising but made himself appear ridiculous.
The mailing list is the foundation of all successful direct advertising, and the advertiser is blind to his own interest who fails to give all needed attention to building it up intelligently and to maintaining it with unflagging zeal. This is a good time to say once more that it is highly important to see that all names are correctly spelled and that all addresses are accurate. The writer’s name is Greer, and he has never bought anything from that rather numerous group of advertisers who carry his name on their mailing lists as “Beer,” “Geer,” or “Green.” An incorrect spelling takes all the individual touch out of an advertisement or even a letter. Duplication of names also creates a bad reaction. If a man receives two or three copies of the same advertisement he will form the sub-conscious impression that the business that sent them out is not very carefully managedand the finer and more expensive the pieces the stronger this impression of wastefulness will become. Time spent in checking a mailing list is time well spent.
The compilation of a mailing list is an individual problem; but the man who has the intelligence and experience to conduct a business will by the same token have the capacity to visualize his potential market and to reduce it to a list of names.
In a highly organized business community such as America there are endless facilities for the creation of good lists, whether the scale be purely local, as with a retail dealer, or nation-wide to meet the needs of a business that advertises and distributes to the whole country. British advertising men all recognize that direct mail advertising has advanced more rapidly in America than in the British Isles, and they unanimously attribute this condition to the greater facilities existing in America for securing mailing lists.
The great value of a list is quite definitely recognized by all the organs of general advertising. Every magazine now makes a careful analysis of its list of subscribers according to their location, business, and buying needs. If you are a manufacturer of saws or screws, The Saturday Evening Post or The Literary Digest can doubt-less tell you how many hardware merchants are included in its list of subscribers in every state of the Union.
In the nature of things the automobile industry in all its branches is the most carefully listed in the world. The ownership of an automobile becomes automatically a matter of public record, because the owner must register his purchase in most states, and in all states he must secure a license before he can operate it. The public license records are ideal mailing lists because they are entirely accurate, quite up to date, and they give the most complete information possible. In them will be found the name and address of the owner, the make, model, and date of manufacture of his car. Thus the man who sells either cars, tires or accessories can tell with some accuracy just who is likely to be in the market for a new car, the size of tires he uses, and what accessories are adapted to the special car and model which he owns. The auto-mobile business is organized to the exact liking of the direct mail advertiser.
But what sources are open for the compilation of lists to the person engaged in other trades that are not made the subject of public record? These sources are too numerous to be fully discussed or even enumerated here, but perhaps means may be suggested that will assist the inexperienced in creating lists of their own.
In the first place there are now many companies who make a business of supplying mailing lists for any line of trade. Some of these organizations are quite large and responsible and do their work with a considerable degree of painstaking effort. There is hardly a general line of business not covered in their files, and some of them go so far as to say that they guarantee that their lists will be ninety-eight per cent correct. The advantages and drawbacks of using a ready-made list will be quite apparent. It is a fine thing, of course, to get a complete list of your possible customers without the prolonged labor of preparing it. Indeed, you might not have the facilities and resources for securing anything like as complete a list as you can buy for a small sum, and you will thus secure in a day or two what would consume weeks or months to prepare yourself. On the other hand, you will realize that the list you buy is also accessible to every one of your competitors, and may in fact be in their hands. If your product is a specialty and non-competitive, this will not be a material objection. Nor will it weigh too heavily in any case. If what you offer has special advantages that competing lines do not have, you will wish to emphasize those points in your advertising. Nor need it be assumed that any one has, or can have, a monopoly on a list of prospects. Any live merchant or manufacturer will in time secure the names of his possible customers, and it is futile to hope that you can keep them from him. We know concerns that guard their mailing lists so carefully that they will not permit them to be used for obviously beneficial cooperative efforts. They seem to think that their competitors cannot possibly find their customers. This, we think, is a vain and unjustified belief. Yet it is a satisfaction to know that there are businesses that appreciate the value of their lists as one of their principal assets.
Nearly all the mailing-list companies will undertake to furnish special lists of any kind desired. If you want the names and ad-dresses of all the drug stores in Seattle, or a list of the advertisers of the country spending over $i00,000 each year, such a list will be quickly supplied. The price per name for special lists is much higher than in the case of stock lists, and our own experience is that the character of the service is not quite so high. We once asked for a list of three hundred of the leading printers of the United States. We noted the absence of some conspicuous names, and ascertained that the list was compiled from commercial reports by a person who had no special and individual knowledge of the printers of the country. There was a good deal of value in the list, but we had to employ a little common sense in revision before we could use it to advantage.
Many national distributors build up individual lists through the cooperation of their local dealers. The man who runs a hard-ware store in Cedarville knows exactly the people in his community who ought to have a new wire fence, and he makes a list of them and sends it to the fence manufacturer. When dealers all over the country have done this the fence maker has a fine, hand-picked, individual mailing list. The chances are that he will reciprocate by sending to each of his dealers some nice advertising booklets about his fence, imprinted with the name of the dealer, who in return will send them to the list of prospects originally made up. Something may go out direct from the factory too.
General advertising is a method often used to develop names. Hardly an important advertisement will be seen that does not contain an invitation to write for a booklet or descriptive folder. The inquiries thus received constitute a reasonable basis for a mailing list, though, of course, the average value would not be so high as in the case of the list furnished by retail dealers or chosen from personal knowledge. There will always be a percentage of inquiries that have nothing behind them except curiosity. The names developed by general advertising should not, as a rule, be put in a permanent mailing list until they have developed into actual buyers. It should be borne in mind that the purpose of advertising is to secure customers, not inquiries.
Telephone directories are a fruitful source for many kinds of lists, and commercial directories and rating books are of distinct value and available to any one.
Membership lists of trade and business organizations are especially useful, as they are already classified and usually constitute the more important members of that trade.
Lists of shareholders in corporations are invaluable to financial institutions and stock brokers, and are in many cases readily obtained.
But we must not ignore the fact that it is quite as much a function of direct advertising to retain old customers as to develop new ones. In The Mailbag, Jean Blum gives the following figures: “Regular customers are worth, on the average, the following sums per year: clothing, $85; women’s specialties, $236; shoes, $35 to $62; furniture, $87; department store, $362; jewelry, $42; music, $30 to $56; Ford automobile, $215.” If these figures are even approximately correct, it is clear that money spent in mailings to retain customers is profitably spent. A great paint company found that every call its salesmen made cost more than $8. Clearly it pays to make these calls fruitful by preparing the way for them by direct mail.
For this reason the ledgers of any established business are a useful source of names. The writer received a letter from a clothing merchant recently, bearing at the top a very conspicuous date, two years or more back. The letter went on to say that the writer who happened to be also a personal friendhad been looking backward over his books and found that the last charge made against me was on the date mentioned above. He wondered whether I had bought something that was not satisfactory, or whether his service had in some respect failed. It was a cordial, effective and tactful means of reawakening my interest, and it was a good illustration of the value of an old charge-customer list for mailing purposes.
Mailing lists may be general or they may be classified in any number of waysgeographically, according to buying power, ac-cording to habits and social condition. Nor is the size of the list necessarily the final index of its value. The manufacturer of pleasure yachts, for example, will not require a large list, but he will need a very carefully selected one. He may want to send each prospect elaborate and expensive advertising material, so costly that he cannot afford to have it wasted. Now any person of sense knows that a cruising, ocean-going yacht is one of the world’s greatest luxuries. Yet it is so expensive to buy and operate that it can be owned only by a very rich person. The yacht-builder, therefore, must have a small and well chosen list.
The famous printer, Mr. Norman T. A. Munder, often displays the beautiful book he printed to advertise a single vase, valued at, we think, $i00,000. The mailing list for this book was limited to twenty-five names, yet each name was that of a rich person known to be a collector of art objects. The vase was sold to a member of this group.
Illustrations might be multiplied indefinitely, but these general principles are enough, if carefully applied:
1. Remember that your mailing list is the basis of all your direct advertising. Prepare it with the utmost care and keep it constantly corrected. The average mailing list will develop from twenty to twenty-five per cent of error in a single year.
2. Study your market. Get the names of the people who are your logical customers, and get them correctly. Then cultivate them by direct mail tactfully, intelligently, persistently. President Beatty, of the Canadian Pacific Railway, lately said that the time for a company to quit advertising was “never.”
The minor and incidental sources of special mailing lists are innumerable, and will suggest themselves to the thoughtful advertiser. Big department stores receive all birth statistics and use them to sell baby baskets and wagons to, receptive parents, trying at the same time to cause the infant to be brought up as a regular customer of the house. Removals of residence always suggest new needs in house furnishings, and every wedding lets loose a flood of new requirements. Marriage licenses are, therefore, of value to many trades. Transfers of real estate are interesting to the con-tractor and supply man, because many of them suggest new building operations. Be alert to the opportunities of your business and, having got a good mailing list, see that it is checked against every response or every returned piece of mail.
The follow-up is an aspect of direct advertising that enters into many campaigns. It is perfectly true that having once satisfied yourself that a person or corporation is a logical buyer of your product, it is wise to be persistent in your efforts to sell. The salesman who never goes back to the house where he was refused either an audience or an order on his first visit can hardly hope to succeed. One of our very largest customers came to us as the result of a series of visits extending over a period of four years, during all of which we sold him not one pound of paper.
Care must be exercised to make the follow-up in either advertising or personal selling tactful. Don’t wear out your welcome and don’t become a nuisance. But with common sense it is possible to accomplish much by persistence.
To build follow-up files is a simple thing. If, for example, you wish to send a second letter or an additional mailing piece to all persons on your list who have not responded to your first letter or advertisement in ten days, nothing is easier than to put copies of your first letter or a copy of your list into a file envelope dated ten days ahead. As responses come in they can be checked against the original list and at the expiration of ten days you can write again to those who have not answered.
As many mailing lists are in the form of cards it is easy to adapt them to a follow-up plan, and information as to responses, previous business, etc., can be noted on the card of each prospect. Files that will automatically come to your attention at fixed dates are the basis of any follow-up system and can be arranged by an intelligent clerk.