List Building 101: Tips for Effective Email Blasts and Direct Mail Campaigns

Imagine you’ve created the email or direct mail campaign of your dreams. The design is out-of-the-box clever. The copy is so well written it restores your faith in the English language. You send it out into the world and wait anxiously for a flood of results, but get only a trickle of replies and a bunch of undeliverable returns. What went wrong? More than likely, you used an outdated, non-targeted mail list in hopes of reaching customers and prospects.

To avoid this painful scenario on your next direct marketing or eblast campaign, you should put as much thought and effort into your list as your message. Start with these list-building basics:

Think Like a Collector

Sarah Appleton, IMA Account Executive and Specialty Media Manager, says effective list-building is all about collection. “Gather as much information from each customer as you can. Go beyond basic contact information like name, address, phone, and email to include demographic data like age, gender, and education as well as pyschographic data about hobbies and interests.”

You want to build a clear picture of your target audience so you can match their values, needs, and wants with your offerings. “Something as simple as tracking where you provide the most service is helpful for targeting a select customer group,” Sarah adds. When creating your direct mail or eblasts, review your database and feature images and messages that appeal to your target audience’s lifestyle.

Keep Lists Accessible, Yet Secure and Private

Store your ideal customer database in a program that’s secure, yet easy for you to export and update. Making timely changes or removing names as requested will save you time and money. With an email marketing list, never use data without permission. Getting permission results in fewer spam complaints, and improves deliverability with higher open and click rates. It’s also vital to let your subscribers know you will not sell their information to any third parties.

Where and How to Start Building List Info

To build a list from scratch or cultivate a better one, consider these ideas:

  • Add contact forms to your website to collect information for a targeted list.
  • If you participate in a trade show, festival, or other special event, offer a prize in exchange for sharing data for your marketing list.
  • Use association resources (like NARI or MBA databases) to help your message reach a larger audience.
  • Offer incentives or discounts available only through email or direct mail to encourage subscribers.
  • Make every contact easy and clear—don’t risk losing your audience with too many page clicks, survey questions, or contact form fields.

Cross-Promote Whenever Possible

Effective marketing is all about reaching your target audience through as many mediums as possible. “Mention direct mail in your emails and mention emails in direct mail, then provide a convenient, simple way to sign up,” Sarah advises. For instance, your list can grow substantially just by promoting email signups on your website, or offering subscriber-only specials via direct mail.

Even with these list-building tips under your belt, you may still have questions about creating a campaign that generates more results. Ask away—we’re happy to share our knowledge with clients to help their businesses grow.