Your Guide to Marketing Mailing Lists

Mailing lists are an effective way to communicate with existing customers, acquire new ones, and convert both. But in order to acquire the best mailing lists for your association, you need to know a few things.

According to Ed Mayer, an authority on direct mail marketing, the success of a marketing campaign depends on three things: your audience, offer, and presentation. If you don’t know who your target audience is, you can’t present them with a compelling offer.

You can search for the best mailing list companies on Google, but if you don’t know who you’re talking to, what you’re saying, and how to say it, your campaign won’t succeed. In this blog, we explore the details of marketing mailing lists. Here’s what you can expect to learn:

  • What are marketing mailing lists?
  • Types of marketing mailing lists
  • How to get mailing lists
  • The future of mailing lists

Keep reading until the end for an introduction to the experts in association marketing who can help your association grow using mailing lists and more.

What Are Marketing Mailing Lists?

Marketers use a variety of terms to designate who they are trying to reach: personas, segments, audiences, lists, etc. For the purpose of this article, we will refer to these target groups as marketing lists.

A list is a group of individuals definable by behavior, demographics, job titles, industry, or source. An example of a list might be the non-member attendees of an organization’s current annual meeting. The purpose of marketing mailing lists is to engage existing customers and convert prospective ones.

Today, the best mailing lists supplied by the best mailing list companies include more than customer demographics. They provide insights into your ideal audience’s lifestyle and behaviors so that you can tailor your communications using segmentation and personalization.

Next, we explain the different types of lists and how to get mailing lists.

How to Get Mailing Lists

For most associations, the best mailing lists are made up of prospects found in databases owned or accessible to an association. The primary place to find prospect names is in the central Association Management System (AMS). These lists are referred to as “house lists,” and they represent a potential gold mine for recruitment marketing efforts.

In order to grow membership, associations will need to extend beyond house lists and identify outside lists to use in their recruitment efforts. Fortunately, there are many excellent opportunities to search for and find prospects from third-party lists and database providers. In this section, we discuss house lists, outside lists, and a few in between.

House Lists

In the search to find house lists, the starting place is to conduct a data census. Ideally, the census will identify the membership status (e.g., active, non-member), the relationship the contact has with the association (e.g., attendee, book buyer), the count of people in that category, and the timeframe of when the record was created. Some of the lists you should find by conducting a census will include:

  • Lapsed members
  • Product buyers
  • Website registrants
  • Shopping cart abandons
  • Conference and meeting attendees
  • Membership inquirers

In addition to your association’s database, another area to explore is lists held by your suppliers and partners. Hundreds of associations offer a newsletter produced through an independent publisher that may include non-member subscribers. An example of this would be SmartBrief.

One education association, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), found that they had over 100,000 non-member subscribers to their SmartBrief newsletter who they could add to their recruitment efforts. These lists include non-members who have demonstrated a proven interest in the association’s field by subscribing.

Third-party Lists

The place to start finding outside lists is simply to look at publishers and companies that exhibit at your conferences or advertise in your publications or on your website. If these entities are trying to reach your members, they very well may have subscribers or customers who will also be prospects for your efforts. Many of these organizations may rent their lists or agree to conduct a list exchange.

For most associations, publications in their industry offer the best source of prospects since the records are typically well-maintained, and the subscribers have either qualified to receive the publication or paid to receive it. The next opportunity to locate outside lists includes reaching out to a professional list broker or doing the searches yourself with a media research website like

A mailing list broker will recommend lists to you and place the order to secure the list. Like a real estate broker, a list broker is compensated by the list owner, so there are typically no additional charges beyond the list rental rate for this service. On the other hand, websites like NextMark provide a keyword tool that allows you to search thousands of commercially available lists on your own to find potential prospects.

Direct Response vs. Compiled Lists

When exploring outside lists, be aware that they fall into two broad categories: direct response lists and compiled lists. The differences are crucial in making your list decisions.

Direct response lists include individuals who have responded to a direct marketing offer. These may include lists of magazine subscribers, catalog buyers, or even members of other associations. Effectively, names on a direct response list include another direct marketer’s customer names. Because they are proven buyers, individuals on these lists are typically more responsive than those on compiled lists.

Compiled lists include names and addresses assembled from phone books, directories, or public records. The advantage of compiled lists is that they usually include a higher number of names and more detailed selection options including demographics, job titles, telephone numbers, and company characteristics.


A final source of third-party marketing mailing lists are databases that can be leased for a period of time and used repeatedly instead of the normal one-time use with rented lists. These lists might include significant amounts of additional demographic or firmographic information. Lists can be rented for a single recruitment campaign or leased for an extended marketing program. Databases from other companies are available for most professions and industries.

The Future of Marketing Lists

For most associations, tracking the results of a recruitment effort by specific marketing mailing lists is the appropriate and effective way to maximize results. However, as technology advances, more associations are moving beyond list-by-list analysis to data modeling which essentially scores a single individual’s likelihood to respond. Every data element attached to an individual is either a positive or negative predictor of joining.

One method of scoring individuals is the RFM method, which stands for recency of purchase, the frequency of purchases, and the amount of spending on purchases. However, even more sophisticated data models will look at each piece of data associated with a record because every data point correlates with a prospect’s likelihood to join or not join. When these data points are rolled up into a score, a database can rank and array each person from most likely to least likely to respond.

To succeed in the pool game of Marco Polo, you need to call out frequently and listen closely to identify your target. Searching for the best prospects for your recruitment efforts is very similar. You need to wade through your house lists, locate and test outside lists, and enhance your data by keeping it clean and filling in what is missing.

All the other pieces of membership recruitment are important, but your top priority for a successful program will depend on finding your best prospective member targets. Armed with this information, you can turn your attention to the second component of the continuous learning recruitment program: developing the most effective offers to convince these prospects to join your association.

Partner With the Experts in Association Marketing

Marketing General Incorporated (MGI) is a widely-recognized leader in the membership marketing field. We offer expertise to associations looking to grow and retain their members through a host of solutions, such as list brokerage and list management.

In general, you don’t purchase mailing lists from companies that sell mailing lists. You use a brokerage service like MGI that finds mailing list providers you can rent lists from. First, you’ll tell our team what kind of contact list you want. Then, we’ll perform research, selection, and performance analysis to locate the top mailing list companies that have the best mailing lists based on your criteria.

We have a unique perspective on lists. On one hand, MGI account managers are trained experts in list research, selection, and performance analysis. Those in our list division, MGI Lists, see lists from the opposite perspective–the day-to-day management of more than a hundred rental lists on behalf of list owners.

As one of the best mailing list companies, we’ve been turning our clients’ marketing mailing lists into revenue since 1978. Search the best mailing lists under MGI management today.

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