It's the List, Stupid

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If there's one lesson to learn in the direct mail business, it's that the list is the most important element in the equation. You can have the best copy, the best offer and the best price -- but if you don't mail your campaign to the right people, you won't sell your product, attract the right donors or get the response rate you're hoping for.

Case in point: I received a direct mail piece that was addressed to someone who hasn't worked at <I>DM News<I> in a year. Granted, we get mail and telephone calls for people who haven't been here for several years, but this piece caught my eye. It was from a real estate office that sells exceptional properties, i.e., very expensive homes. "As you may know, Previews has enjoyed a unique and distinguished position in the world of fine real estate," the cover letter said. "We have earned our reputation by selling the properties people dream about."

True, the piece included photographs of some fabulous homes. But there are two problems here. One, the enclosed letter was too impersonal for a mailing that's describing something so personal -- where you could be living for the next umpteen years as you pay off that huge mortgage. It can't simply begin with a generic, "Dear Sir or Madam." And you'd think that for a company selling multimillion-dollar homes, the agent would sign each letter individually.

More important than the creative, though, is the list. The person who put together this mailing missed his target audience by using an old list. People in the field say using the proper list can have as much as a 3,000 percent impact on response. Just think of the agent's commission if that had been the case.

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