The Rule of Lists
One of the legendary Bob Stone’s “Timeless Direct Marketing Principles” is this:
Maximizing direct mail success depends first upon the lists you use, second upon the offers you make and third upon the copy and graphics you create.
Over the years, I’ve seen many variations on Stone’s principle, such as “60 percent lists, 30 percent offer, 10 percent creative” or “40 percent lists, 30 percent offer, 30 percent creative,” and so on. But no matter what the variation, all experts basically agree that lists are king, and everything else is secondary. So that’s how I’ll phrase my “Rule of Lists” for this column:
The Rule of Lists: Mailing to the right lists will have a bigger impact on your response rates and sales than anything else you can do.
What makes lists so important? In the broadest sense, this question is easy to answer: No matter how fabulous your offer, or how dramatic your presentation, it won’t generate many sales if your catalog winds up in the hands of people who aren’t interested in what you have to sell.
In other words, you can’t sell steaks to vegetarians.
This basic concept of “mailing to the right people” is easy for people to agree with at a cocktail party. But when you get back to your office and start trying to apply the general rule to your own cataloging reality, a lot of challenging details start showing up. It’s not easy to see how to turn the general principle of “mail the right lists” into a real-world plan for generating higher response rates.
Exactly how do you mail to the right people? Let’s take a closer look.
The Perfect List. It’s easy to define the perfect list for your catalog: The “perfect list” is a list of people who are guaranteed to buy soething from your catalog.