A common mistake of novice direct marketers is to create a mailing, and then go look for a list almost as an afterthought.They have it backwards. The right way to do direct mail is to first understand, find, analyze, and know the audience – including their wants and desires – and then tailor a letter to this specific group or list.Here are three things about mailing lists that are important to your DM success but maybe not immediately obvious.The first is that you never know in advance which mailing list will work for your offer — and which won’t.So you should never look at a bunch of lists, pick one, and gamble your success or failure on it.A better approach is to test three to five or more of the most likely candidates, measure the results, and then roll out your mailing to the ones that are profitable. The test results often surprise us. For instance, one of my clients was doing mailing selling software for a particular kind of computer platform to which two computer magazines were dedicated. The magazines seemed almost identical in content, so we figured there wouldn’t be much difference between the two subscriber lists. But when we tested, Subscriber List A generated three times the response rate of Subscriber List B. Had we picked one at random, and had it been B, our mailing would have been a flop. Instead, it was a winner.Here’s another example: A car rental company wanted to test direct mail to sell car rentals. The three relevant facts: (1) they serve the consumer market only, not business, (2) they are in Florida, and (3) they rent cars by the week, not by the day.What list would you choose?You might say Florida residents. But most locals only need a car a day or two while theirs is in the shop. They don’t want to rent by the week.Other suggestions that were made include Disney customers… airline lists… travel agencies… hotel customers… subscribers to travel magazines.But one list outperformed all of these. It was a list of Florida condo owners. Why did it work? Many condo owners fly from the Northeast to Florida. They don’t bring their car and need one when they stay at their condo. And, these condo owners usually need a car a week at a time, during their holiday.The second important thing to know about mailing lists is that you should never rent the list directly from the list owner.Why not?The list owner has a self-serving motive for renting you his list: to make money. Therefore, you should always rent your mailing lists from a “list broker.” A list broker has access to all of the lists available on the market. A good list broker can recommend the best lists to reach your market. The broker has no proprietary interest in renting you List A vs. List B. Their job is to get you good results, so your mailing is successful and makes money for you. They know you will come back to them to rent more lists when this happens. The list broker does not charge to make mailing list recommendations. They only get paid if and when you actually rent a list from them.Even then, the cost of their advice is zero. You pay the same amount of money to rent the list from the broker as you would going directly to the owner (similar to the way you don’t pay extra to get plane tickets from a travel agent).One list broker we recommend is Edith Roman Associates. You can search their directory of lists online at http://www.edithroman.com at no charge. Or call toll-free 800-223-2194.The third most important thing to know about mailing lists is that there are two basic types: response and compiled.Compiled lists are names compiled from various sources, such as public records or Yellow Pages. These can work well when you are doing lead generation mailings and want to reach a specific market, such as lawyers in California or factory managers in a particular industry.But when you are doing mail order selling, avoid compiled lists. Use response lists only. A response list is a mailing list of people who have responded to a direct marketing offer and purchased a product through the mail. The best response lists are likely to be lists of buyers who have purchased a product similar to yours at a similar price.Tip: When renting response lists, ask for “hotline names.” These are the mail order buyers who have bought recently, usually within 12 months. The hotline names almost always outperform any other names on the list.