How to Organize Your Marketing List for Maximum Effectiveness

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

If you’re like most people, you get a ton of marketing materials from (mostly) well-meaning businesses trying to get your attention. Sometimes the offer is right on: it’s something you want or need from a business you want to hear from. Other times — maybe even most times — you wonder how you got on this marketing list in the first place. The mail is an annoyance, and that transfers to the company doing the marketing, too.

When you’re sending marketing messages (via email or regular mail) for your own business, don’t be “that guy.” Here’s how to organize your marketing lists to produce maximum results for you and provide a more relevant experience for customers and prospects.

Clean Up Your Act

You’re wasting time and money if you have a messy marketing list that contains inactive, incorrect or uninterested recipients. If you do offline marketing (i.e., using printed materials), send out a first-class mailing with return mail to your entire list at least once a year so you can eliminate bad addresses.

Return service provides the forwarding address or lets you know the piece was undeliverable so you can update or delete the entry. It’s also important to remove duplicate addresses from your list to avoid the unnecessary expense of printing and mailing more envelopes or marketing materials (like postcards) than you really need.

Keeping lists clean is easier with online marketing, though it can be time consuming when doing it totally on your own. That’s why many small business owners use email service providers (ESPs) to manage unsubscribes and bounced emails, and identify duplicate addresses.

“If email addresses continue to bounce, you can assume that the recipient has changed email addresses. It would make sense to delete it from your database,” says Ron Cates, director of new marketing development for Constant Contact, an ESP. “Keeping your mailing list up to date also means removing email addresses that haven’t opened your emails over an extended period of time, as they are tacitly indicating that they don’t want your emails anymore.”

Keep ’Em Separated

“Segmenting your mailing lists can increase your click-through and conversion rates by as much as 40 percent,” says Jeanne Hurlbert of MySurveyExpert, a Baton Rouge, LA–based survey consultant who specializes in big data for small businesses. That’s reason enough to put in the effort to segment by geographical area, customer type, purchase history or almost anything meaningful you can identify and track about your recipients. ESPs make segmenting easy, but you can keep your own targeted lists.

For more robust segmenting, Hurlbert suggests using meaningful customer data from two sources:

  • Data on past behavior, such as purchases or expressed interest in a product or service, which you can usually find in POS systems, if you use one
  • Data you collect on your customers, through surveys and direct inquiry via your ESP or sales staff

“Ideally, you should segment your lists using both demographic (such as age group or gender) and psychographic characteristics (interests, goals or values) so that you send appropriately targeted messages to your customers,” says Hurlbert. Many point of sale systems allow you to track purchase history and collect useful information from customers. Or send a quick survey to new and current customers asking them for more information, including birthdays, preferred products, etc.

Organizing by segments enables you to personalize marketing materials to make them more relevant and useful to recipients, which helps customers see you more favorably, builds loyalty and increases your marketing effectiveness and ROI.

“Knowing what an individual cares about or has purchased recently, and then using that information in your marketing, shows you are listening and not just sending disguised junk mail,” says David Chalfant, director of development for Whitman-Walker Health, a community health center in Washington, DC.

Groom Your Marketing List Carefully

Creating segments is a smart idea, but it requires a delicate touch — and respect for consumers’ information. Too many inquiries, or bad processes that impede actual commerce, make customers unhappy, impacting your bottom line. And their displeasure can spread should they share it via social media.

To get on a customer’s good side, be clear about why you’re asking for customer information and what you’ll do with any that is provided. Consumers will be more apt to provide information if they know they’ll get something beneficial in return. That means don’t ask for information you don’t plan to use. For example, if you ask for a customer’s birthday, use it to send a special discount as a celebration. If you ask for gender or marital status information, segment your mailing lists accordingly.

The Rewards Are Large

Organizing your marketing lists can be a difference maker in a highly competitive business environment, according to Steven Macdonald, online marketer for WorkZone, developer of Web-based project management software. That’s why “the rewards are so large for the people who understand it and do it right,” he says.

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