Mailing Lists vs Occupant Lists

A “consumer mailing list” includes a person’s name … while an “occupant mailing list” does not. With an “occupant mailing list” the mailing label will read “OR CURRENT OCCUPANT,” which instructs the postal carrier to deliver the mail piece … regardless of who is occupying the address. A “consumer mailing list” offers demographics and psychographics so the mailer can target specific households and people. An “occupant mailing list” represents shot-gun marketing … in essence a mail piece to every single household in a geographic area. Marketers that are marketing a product/service which appeals to all people will typically use an “Occupant List,” since they want to reach every single household … regardless of age, income, gender, marital status, etc.

Now … here’s my beef! In this age of specialization and choice I can’t think of any product that appeals to all people. Even a generic service like Cable-TV … is no longer a service that “everyone” wants. Cable marketers could save marketing dollars by not sending a mail piece to every single household, and instead focus on the households/people most likely to want cable … per their demographic profiles.

Sometimes a printer will push an “occupant mailing lists” on unsuspecting marketers since an “occupant list” will always have many more names to mail (print) than a targeted “consumer mailing list.” Using targeted “consumer mailing lists” will usually cut mailing list quantity (printing quantity) in half.

Some will cite lower postage as the reason to use an “occupant mailing list.” And this point I don’t deny … postage is lower because the USPS gives discounts when a mailer saturates a geographic area. Mailers with a little direct marketing experience (restaurant owner, plumber, lawyer, accountant, etc) will often say “GO with the occupant list” when they hear that postage is much lower than a targeted consumer mailing list. HOWEVER, a few seconds on the calculator will quickly dispel this myth. Take a look.

  • Occupant List – Mail everybody: 50,000 households x 15 cents postage = $7,500 postage
  • Targeted Consumer List: 30,000 households x 25 cents postage = $7500 postage*

For the above example, note that to be fair I used a high postage rate for the targeted list … and very low postage rate for the occupant list … though in reality there wouldn’t be such a significant disparity in the rates. Plus, often a targeted list can represent about half of the quantity of an occupant list, so in this example the targeted list would have another $1250 savings in postage if we reduced the mail quantity to 25,000 … by using demographics to focus on the best prospects.

List cost is another issue that mailers cite when choosing an “occupant list” over a targeted consumer mailing list. But as with postage – a few simple calculations will show that it’s still cheaper to use a targeted list. Unlike decades ago, when I started in the business, consumer mailing lists now offer an extensive array of demographics and lifestyles … at costs that are bordering on free. These low cost consumer demographics allow marketers to cheaply find and focus on their best prospects … AND as important avoid people that are highly likely to not respond.

When will the madness stop? Every day I seem to receive a mail piece that was sent via an “occupant mailing” list. Today it was an oversize postcard from an upscale sushi restaurant. C’mon, does this restaurant owner naively believe that every single household within 2 miles of his restaurant is a good sushi dining prospect? The restaurant owner could’ve saved a good bit of marketing dollars by deleting certain age and income groups. Couple of years ago a profile analysis for a sushi restaurant showed that less than 5% of people above age 70 visited a sushi restaurant; is it worth the money to mail to every single age 70+ household just to reach a couple of potential patrons? I think not!

Sure, by deleting specific age/income groups the restaurant WILL miss some prospects, BUT it makes no sense to mail to the outliers just to pick-up a few additional diners. A better strategy would be to focus on the primary prospects … which would represent fewer names … cost savings. And then use the cost savings to mail more often to the primary prospects.

Bottom-line, it’s time that marketers catch up with the 21st century, and put down the shot-gun and start marketing with the sharp eye of a rifle.

Ken Dante Newton
knewton@dmdatabases.com