Implement Effective List Research for Your Direct Mail Campaign

Liz Kistner - Monday, October 27, 2014

What is the function of marketing research?

Generically speaking it is a formalized means of obtaining information to be used in making marketing decisions. According to the American Marketing Association "Market Research is the function which links the consumer, customer, and public to the marketer through information - information used to identify and define marketing opportunities and problems; generate, refine, and evaluate marketing actions; monitor marketing performance, and improve understanding of marketing as a process"

As higher education becomes more competitive, market research plays a pivotal role in helping universities develop strategic marketing plans.  Solid marketing plans revolve around brand awareness, message development, student satisfaction, student retention, surveys, alumni engagement, campus planning, and direct mail marketing.

Direct mail continues to be a staple used in the academia industry to generate enrollment.  For many, it is the single most significant marketing budget line item. Effective list research is a key component that drives your response and matriculation rates.   How can you effectively develop a strategic direct mail campaign when you have over 60,000 lists to choose from?  You can't.  Within the 60,000 lists multiple options exist:  Opt-In Email lists- 1,523; Compiled Lists- 18,370; Association Lists- 688; Direct Response Lists- 26,346; and Controlled Circulation Lists- 4,306.  Don't' Panic.    Implement four list strategies:

  1. Incorporate multiple sources- the source represents how the data is gathered for each list.  Sources include:  direct response (active subscribers, book buyers, seminar attendees); web registration/ online survey; complied (Yellow Pages, census data , state license); or association members.
  2. Target lists rich with segmentation variables- Ask yourself:  what type of segmentation selects are available as it relates to and mirrors your institution's database of current students and alumni?  Available list segmentation selects may include: demographic (age, income, gender); psychographic (values and lifestyles);  geodemographic (small, well-defined geographic units into groups that are similar with respect to the demographic, housing, and socioeconomic characteristics of the household comprising the units); as well as educational level, plan to enroll, area of study interest, job function, company size, industry, and online studies. Five segmentation list examples:

    General MBA
    Criminal Justice

  3. Pull simple random "nth" sampling; use test splits; and include controlled vs. test lists.  A controlled list is a set of lists that you continually use.  80% of your campaign should incorporate controlled lists, while 20% should add a mix of test lists. Test, test, and test again.  Test age splits, test educational level (high school; high school and/or some college), test split job functions, test split employee size and/or various industries.
  4. Tap lists with the two "U"s:  Usage and Update.  What other universities have used the file similar to your institution or those considered a competitor?  How often is the file updated and put through a NCOA (national change of address).  Direct response lists are updated either monthly or quarterly.  Compiled lists are updated every six months or annually.

Improve the effectiveness of your institutional recruitment process through list research.  Gather, analyze and interpret marketing data and other relevant information to make decisions that will affect your institution's bottom line.


"Marketing Management" by Philip Kotler

"Marketing Research Principles & Applications" by Melvin Crask, Richard Fox and Roy Stout

"Market Research and Analysis" by Richard Irwin

SRDS Media Solutions