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Guide to Direct Mail

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This is Part 1 of a 2 part series.  You can read Part 2 here.

People have been saying direct mail is dead for a long time – pity the data doesn’t support those opinions.

Many, when asked about direct mail, will turn up their nose and say something along these lines – “…it’s junk…a waste of money…I just toss it away…”

Adding direct mail to your digital ad campaign boosts your conversion rate by 28%.

44% of people said they had visited a brand’s website after receiving direct mail; 34% searched online.

Direct mail median household return on investment is 29% according to the DMA.

In the past few weeks, I had the CEO of a mid-sized manufacturing firm tell me that he had tried direct mail once and it didn’t work.  He then went on to explain that he had asked his email marketing manager to create a direct mail campaign.

That 20-something email expert had never designed a direct mail package before.  Never written direct response copy.  (That’s based on the emails I read and he wrote.)  Never saw the power of a P.S. or a Johnson Box.  Didn’t know the power of “lumpy mail“.  And dimensional mail…well forget about it!

That one attempt failed and based on that, the CEO knew that direct mail was a waste of money.

That’s like hiring your plumber to rewire your house.

Let’s talk about how direct mail works.

Direct mail can be one of your most effective, low-cost generators of sales – if you know how to harness its powers. If you don’t understand direct mail basics, you will create ‘junk mail’ which not only wastes your time and money but weakens your brand reputation with prospective and current customers.

In the following sections you will learn the basics for effective direct mail, so you can use it to attract profitable new customers and turn first-time buyers into repeat buyers.

Direct Marketing versus Direct Mail

Direct marketing is a highly targeted method of selling directly to the consumer; direct mail is just one of several media or communication channels used in direct marketing.

The key to successful direct marketing is effective targeting – and this requires a clear understanding of your ‘best’ customers as well as your ‘worst’ customers, so you can target prospective customers that are more like your ‘best’. Other effective direct marketing media include:

  • Print advertising that includes response devices such as coupons, phone numbers, fax numbers, email addresses and Internet addresses (URLs)
  • Insert cards, also referred to as ‘blow-ins’, are commonly found in magazines, and they are another example of direct marketing using print advertising
  • Radio and TV commercials that also include response devices such as telephone numbers, URLs, and email addresses
  • Catalogs which typically include multiple products along with response devices such as telephone numbers, order forms, business response cards and URLs
  • Card decks that include multiple offers from multiple companies and are commonly delivered via the mail or as door-hangers by distributors going door-to-door in neighborhoods
  • Package inserts that are typically found in billing statements or inside the packaging of a product
  • Free-standing inserts (FSIs) such as the advertisements found in the daily newspaper
  • Internet advertising, especially banner ads, that invite you to ‘click’ to learn more and order
  • The opt-in email which is the electronic equivalent of direct mail and will include an offer along with clickable links that will take you to a webpage or micro-site that will provide you with additional information and the opportunity to buy the product

Telemarketing, also referred to as teleservices, is:

  • Telephone-based prospecting and information collection
  • Talking on the telephone to prospects or customers
  • Inbound telemarketing is usually customers or prospects calling your toll-free number
  • Outbound telemarketing is when you place the call to a prospect or customer. Telemarketing can be done by your in-house staff or by an external telemarketing company.

Is Direct Mail Effective?

With so much attention being placed on the Internet, many businesses are forgetting about direct mail – and that’s a terrible mistake that could be costing your business tremendous revenue opportunities. If you need proof as to the effectiveness of direct mail, just look at companies like LL Bean, Williams Sonoma, and Lands’ End – all of which are large, successful corporations using direct mail to attract, engage, convert and retain highly profitable customers.

But best of all, direct mail offers small and medium-sized businesses a low-cost opportunity to increase sales in both the near and long-term. How? By allowing you to target your efforts to specific individuals in an extremely personal way at a fixed cost!

Think of it this way – for as little as $1 you can sell a product or service to a new customer. What other media allows you such a potential return?

Junk Mail: How to Avoid it with Proper Planning & Execution

Successful direct mail is targeted and contains a valuable offer that is too good to refuse – junk mail is delivering the wrong offer to the wrong person.

Most businesses will create junk when they focus on the wrong issues – specifically the quantity of distribution – rather than taking the time to create the best offer for the right audience. This kind of ‘saturation’ mailing is typically sent to ‘occupant’ or ‘to our neighbors at…’ and are generally a waste of resources for any business.

The Importance of 'Ready, Aim, Fire.'

For direct mail to succeed you need a plan and a successful plan will thoroughly address the following points:

Objectives: Specific, measurable objectives such as “To sell 5 units of Product X at $100 each to new customers by June 1st, 2010.” Why do you need a clearly stated objective? Because if you don’t know what success is, you can’t create and execute a direct mail campaign that will be successful. After all, if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?

Strategies: These are planned actions to achieve your objective – and direct mail is your strategy. To improve your chances for success, you should consider making direct mail one of several strategies that you will use to achieve your objective – and this is called an ‘integrated marketing campaign’. An effective example of this would be to include [ex] outbound telemarketing as a follow-up to the direct mail effort or to use direct mail in a multi-step approach (sending several direct mail packages/pieces to the target audience over a specific period). This will make your overall campaign more effective because your target audience is, most likely, going to require several contacts before your message cuts through the clutter of their lives.

Tactics: These would be the specific actions used to execute the strategy.  For example, the initial direct mail package will be #10 envelope with a business letter, 3-panel brochure and a postage-paid business response card (BRC) along with tollfree numbers and a special URL containing information specific for this campaign.

In Part 2

For those of you that want to check out the numbers and make certain that direct mail is effective, check out Part 2 here.  There are some break-even calculators that you can download and videos that walk you through the math that lets you determine, before you spend one-cent, if a direct mail campaign makes sense for your business.

More on Direct Mail

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B2B Direct Mail can be an incredibly effective way to build awareness, interest, desire and new customers. Here are some tips to help you enjoy success.

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Guide to Direct Mail

Direct mail isn’t dead – as a matter of fact, research has shown it helps improve response rates of your other campaigns

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