A Direct Mail List Mistake Lives On Forever
Ms. Jean Gianfagna is tired of getting Mr. Gean Gianfagna’s mail.
When I started a marketing consulting business in Cleveland, Ohio in the early 1990s, someone who was compiling a direct mail list of small businesses made a typo in my name. I became Gean Gianfagna on this list and the compiler assumed I was a man.
It’s hard to believe, but nearly 20 years later, I still get direct mail addressed to Mr. Gean Gianfagna. This address has been so wrong for so long that I instantly discard any mailing that uses it.
But it’s more than an ongoing annoyance: It’s an example of poor list hygiene and bad marketing strategy.
How the List Hygiene Failed
Let’s start with the spelling. How many Jeans or Genes do you know who spell their name Gean? I’ve been Jean my whole life and have never met anyone, male or female, who spells the name this way. Isn’t there a hygiene default somewhere about how to spell this name? And when it’s hard to be sure if a name is male or female – Chris, Terry, Kelly, Jean/Gene – why wouldn’t you just drop the salutation?
Next, let’s consider the use of the list by the mailer. My name is correct on countless business direct mail lists – membership lists, subscriber lists, business buyer lists, women business owner lists, marketing agency president lists, small business owner lists. If someone is targeting any of these demographics to sell business products and services via direct marketing, they must be using more lists than this one bad list. Shouldn’t the duplicate records that emerge when the mailer does a merge/purge – records which have my name and salutation correct on all the other lists – cause this incorrect name to be purged from the final list?
Why Compiled Lists are Lists of Last Resort
Then there’s the use of compiled lists in general. When selecting direct mail lists, business-to-business marketers have many choices:
- Buyers: The most qualified lists are buyers of business products. They have proven their responsiveness to direct marketing and have demonstrated buying behavior, which means they’re more likely to read your direct mail package or catalog and actually place an order.
- Subscribers and members: The next best lists are subscribers to business media and members of business organizations. They’ve indicated a genuine interest in a specific area of business and a willingness to engage with a publication or organization. These prospects are more likely to at least consider your direct mail offer if you can show them how your product or service helps them do their job better.
- Inquirers: Business decision-makers who have inquired as a result of some prior marketing initiative – such as requesting information via direct mail, an ad, an email, a website, or a trade show – have at least raised their hands to ask about a business product or service. They’re not buyers yet, but they could be with the right product and the right offer.
- Compiled lists: Last are compiled lists, which are lists of people who share similar characteristics, such as owners of small businesses. These lists are created by someone who gathers data from lots of sources. Prospects on these lists have not indicated any specific interest in a product or service or demonstrated any behavior that would indicate propensity to buy. Unless you’re targeting brand new businesses, where the business owner hasn’t yet had the opportunity to get on other lists as a buyer, subscriber, member, or inquirer, these are the least qualified names to use in business-to-business direct mail prospecting.
So the next time your marketing strategy calls for a direct marketing campaign to rented mailing lists of business executives, be smart about it. First, look for lists of buyers, then subscribers and members, then inquirers.
If you can’t find these names, use compiled lists as a last resort and be sure to do proper list hygiene to avoid obvious addressing mistakes. And if your compiled list has a record for a Mr. Gean Gianfagna in Cleveland, Ohio, reject the list.