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How To Create A Mailing List

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Terry Doland, Owner
Terry Doland, Owner

How To Create A Mailing List

One of the most valuable assets any company has is its mail list – the compilation of information about customers and prospects that facilitates the ability to communicate with them. In its simplest form, a mail list consists of the individual’s or company’s name and a complete, accurate address. Including additional data elements such as contact name, telephone number and e-mail address adds value to the mail list. Add other information not related to contacting the individual or business (such as when a membership expires or when the last purchase was made), and you’re creating a rich database of information that can be mined for sales and marketing purposes.

Why is a mail list important?

Despite the growing popularity of web-based communication and mobile marketing, direct mail is now and will remain a fundamental tool for contacting customers. Not all customers accept or read unsolicited e-mail messages. Some businesses and organizations automatically block unsolicited e-mail messages addressed to their employees. Some messages are not suited to e-mail. And even if these conditions did not exist, you are more likely to reach the target of your message if you vary how it is delivered.

The benefit of a “house” mailing list

House list is the term for a mailing list that you compile yourself using information about your customers and prospects. A house list has many benefits over a rented list. The information in it will be more current (especially if you have compiled it from sources that mail often to the list, such as your company’s billing department); you have access to information to keep it updated (such as move update information from returned mail or the call records kept by outside salesmen); and you have an established relationship with the names on the mail list. For these reasons, a house list always performs better, as measured by response rate to a mailing, then a rented list.

Compiling a mailing list

Compiling a mail list means gathering information from various sources, then standardizing the format of the list. For example, you may gather information about your customers from a variety of sources – your company’s billing department or your organization’s membership records, your customer’s web site, and from individuals within your company or organization who have information you desire.

A common result of gathering information from different sources is that individual data elements are not consistent among the sources. For instance, the billing department may list one individual as the contact person while the customer service department may have other individuals as contacts. Even when the individual contacts are the same, the amount of information may be different. Membership records may include a title (Mr., Mrs., Dr.) and a spouse name that is not kept in the newsletter mailing list.

Establishing standards for a mailing list

Because of the variation in information obtained by various sources, it is important to establish a structure for the mailing list that is adequate to hold all the data. Each element in the mailing list needs its own separate field, sized appropriately for the data. Thus a basic structure for a mail list is first name, last name, street address, city, state and ZIP code.

When determining the structure of your mail list, think about how you might use the list in the future.

  • Will you ever send invitations to events that require a social form of address (Mr. and Mrs. Brian Taylor; The Honorable Patricia Nelson, Mayor; Pastor Jimmy Stewart)? If so, you’ll need a field for title.
  • Will you ever want to use an inside address with the first name of an individual and the spouse (Dear Brian and Leticia, Dear Patsy, Dear Jimmy)? You’ll need additional data fields for alternate first name and spouse name.
  • Will your list contain a mix of individuals and businesses? Then you’ll need a company field to enter the names of businesses.
  • Will you need to mail to Canada, Mexico or another foreign country? You’ll need a country field and may have to include 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 a data field. 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.

If you fill a name field with a mix of the names of individuals and the names of businesses, you will create an undesirable situation for when you want to print information, such as this one where a business contact has been entered into the first name field and the name of a business has been entered into the last name field:

 First name field       
 Last name field
 Bill Bradley
 Sam and Arlene Johnson
 Carol Taylor  Taylor Manufacturing Co.
When the instructions are given to print the data on the envelope, here is what will result:

  • First line of envelope 1: Bill Bradley
  • First line of envelope 2: Sam and Arlene Johnson
  • First line of envelope 3: Carol Taylor Taylor Manufacturing Co.

If the mail list is re-structured with a separate field for business name, then Carol Taylor’s name will print on the first line and the name of her company, Taylor Manufacturing, will print on the second line – exactly as it should.

Maintain your mail list in a database manager

Since a mail list is a form of a database, the best software to use is a relational database manager like Microsoft Access or Excel. 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.

Storing information in tables rather than one long data file has several advantages: you can sort based on any field, easily access information, generate reports containing only selected fields from each record, and reorganize the information by creating new tables using data from other tables.

Having your mail list in a relational database format allows for quick searches and sorts 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 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.

Use our suggestions for structuring your mail list

If you’d like to see an example of a mail list structure, just let us know. We have prepared our recommendations for what fields to include as well as suggestions for the length of each field and its characteristics (alpha, numeric or alphanumeric).

To get your copy, contact  Terry Doland or Nathan Fette at (408) 400-0223. We can send you a digital file or hard copy.

This information provided to you by Silicon Valley's Express Printing & Graphics, Inc.
located at 1205 Alderwood Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94089



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