When businesses dip their toes into the world of mailing lists for the first time, they often unwittingly make simple mistakes that jeopardize the success of their marketing campaigns. We know that being a first-time mailing list buyer can be tricky, because you simply don’t know what the best practices are. One of the most common mistakes we see with novice list buyers is that they’ll purchase or rent a mailing list, sit on it for a long time before using it, and then are surprised when their response rates are low. Respecting the shelf life of a mailing list is crucial to running a successful direct marketing campaign, so let’s clear this one up once and for all.

Why do mailing lists have a shelf life in the first place? Well if you think about it, people are constantly moving; in fact, approximately 1.2 million people move every month. That means a consumer mailing list that is even a month old can contain a large portion of outdated addresses, not because it was an inaccurate list, but because people’s addresses changed in the period of time between when it was generated and when it was used. The same goes for business mailing lists; new businesses are constantly starting up, many businesses move locations, and other businesses close their doors altogether. Of course a list with outdated addresses will garner low response rates, because no one is reading that mail! If you let the shelf life of your list pass you by, then you will have wasted a perfectly good marketing opportunity, and marketing dollars along with it.

So, what is the shelf life of a mailing list? Ideally you should use your mailing list immediately after you purchase it, as that is the point at which it will be most accurate. In a perfect world, everyone would use their lists within 1-2 weeks of purchasing. However, if you need a little more time, I would recommend waiting no longer than 30 days to send your mailing piece. If the 30-day mark passes you by, you can of course still send to the list, but don’t expect great results. At that point it might be worth sending the list through a list hygiene service to scrub the outdated addresses, or even just purchasing a new list altogether.

How do you avoid sitting on your mailing list for too long? The key here is effective planning. Most businesses that wait too long to use their lists didn’t know what they were going to do with the mailing list when they initially purchased it, and that is absolutely the wrong way to go about this process. Make sure you have the direct mail creative completely designed, and approved by upper management if necessary, beforehand. You should also make sure you have a plan for printing the piece and creating the mailing labels ahead of time, (many list companies offer these services as well). If you plan these things out in advance, then once you purchase your mailing list, you will be ready to deploy immediately, and you won’t have to waste time figuring out the details.

We hate seeing good mailing lists go to waste for no good reason, so don’t let this happen to you! Of all first-time buyer mistakes, this is one of the easiest to avoid. Make sure you have all your ducks in a row before purchasing or renting a list – once the campaign is over and you see your response rates, you’ll be glad you did!

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