Most importantly, the business or organization has an established relationship with the names on the mail list. For these reasons, a house list always performs better than a rented list, as measured by response rate to a mailing.
Establishing Standards for a House List
A house list that will be used for a single purpose (sending a monthly newsletter, for example) needs a simple structure – first name, last name, street address, city, state, and ZIP code.
But if the list could be used for other purposes, additional fields will be required. Here are some examples:
• If the list will be used to mail invitations to an event that requires a social form of address (Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Damon; President and Mrs. Barack Obama; The Honorable John Roberts, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) then the list will need an additional field for title.
• If the list will be used for a mail merge application requiring the first name of the individual and spouse in a salutation line (Dear Matt and Luciana, Dear Barack and Michelle, Dear John and Jane), the list will need additional data fields for alternate first name and spouse name.
• If the customers and prospects are a mix of businesses, organizations, and individuals, an additional data field is needed for company name.
• If the list contains foreign addresses it will need a country field, and may need additional fields to accommodate foreign address formats.
The main benefit of having a separate field for each data element is the ability to sort on it. While at first it may seem unnecessary to separate a name into first and last fields, having just a single name field means that a sort on the name field will alphabetize by the first character encountered – in this case, the first character of the first name. This is a much less useful sort than being able to alphabetize by last name – which requires a last name field.
By design, a field should contain only one type of information, and one type is strictly defined to mean one thing only. First name means the first name of an individual; last name means the last name of an individual. A separate field, company name, is required to hold the names of businesses and organizations.
Maintain a House List with Database Management Software
Since a mail list is a type of database, the best software to use is a relational database. A relational database uses a table of rows and columns to store information.
The rows are called records; the columns are called fields. In a mail list, the fields contain information such as first name, last name, street address, city, state, ZIP code. Taken together, the fields make up a single record, and all the records, taken together, make up the database or file.
A mail list in a relational database format has several benefits: sorts can be made on any field, information is easy to access, reports can be generated using a subset of fields from each record, and information can be reorganized by creating new tables using data from other tables.
A relational database manager can perform a quick search and sort using either a filter or a query. Both these functions apply selection criteria to determine what records meet the criteria, then create a new table of records that meet the criteria.
A filter is a temporary tool that is used one time in the context of a particular table and disappears when the table is closed. In contrast, a query can be stored for reuse.
A popular relational database management program is Access. Perhaps because it is harder to learn than Access, many customers like to use Excel for a mail list.
Despite the fact that Excel displays information in rows and columns (making it appear to be a table), the information is actually one long data file. This limits the ability to find data because the file must be searched sequentially.
In addition, Excel allows the user to change the sort order of a single column (rather than the entire record), which can lead to a mismatch of the data elements in the rows.