7 Steps to Direct Mail Marketing Success

After years of spending tremendous amounts of money on television, radio or print advertising, some marketers arrive at the idea of testing direct mail marketing. After all, it’s cheap and it gets you a gazillion responses for next to nothing, right? Wrong. It’s amazing how many CEOs and corporate executives have mistaken ideas about direct mail (DM.) DM can be a very affordable way to reach specific target audiences in the long run, but you have to plan carefully (the STRATEGY) before you ever mail unit number 1, (the TACTICS).

1. Choose your CATEGORY correctly between two options:
a. Business-to-Business (B2B)
b. Business-to-Consumer (B2C)

Many people will laugh at this determination, thinking it’s too basic. But it’s kind of like deciding which half of your body your pants go on. If you’re wearing your pants on your head, you’ll give your audience a good laugh – but you’ll never sell a single item. Some inexperienced marketers will say, “I don’t care who I sell to – I just want to sell to EVERYONE!” Cute, but no cigar.

You have to know who your potential buyer is, before you implement a direct mail campaign – or any marketing campaign, truth be told. Let’s say you’re selling an informational guide on pet grooming. That is obviously going to appeal to consumers, not businesses. The only way it would appeal to professional pet groomers is if it contained very advanced information. In other words, professional pet groomers already know the basics – and a whole lot more. Your book had better contain some very high-level ground-breaking information to get their interest.

But if your book was a ‘do-it-yourself’ guide to entry-level pet grooming, consumers are you one and only target.

2. Choose your LIST. List is the number 1 cause of DM success or failure. You can invest $10 per unit into the format and design of the kit (strong tactics), but if you mail it to the wrong list (bad strategy), you’ll get a bad response. Conversely, if you find the ultimate list of people who want, need and can afford your product and service (good strategy), you can scribble your offer on a sheet of notebook paper (weak tactics) and get a good response.

There are two categories of lists, business and consumer. And there are two basic types of mailing lists, COMPILED and RESPONSE. Compiled lists are gathered from multiple sources, i.e. phone directories, county property deed files, credit bureaus, surveys, etc. Response or ‘vertical’ lists are people who have registered a specific interest in a product, service or category. For example, magazine subscribers are a source of vertical information, because they have shown an interest in the magazine’s subject category. Organizational membership lists are vertical because these people have a bond in the type of industry or cause that the organization revolves around.

3. Choose your OFFER. Your offer is more that just what you are selling; it is the way you are presenting it or packaging it to get the buyer to take action today. In other words, your PRODUCT may be a commercial space heater for warehouses, but your OFFER is ‘try one for 30 days with no money down, and we’ll give you a free golf putter – yours to keep even if you return the heater at our expense later.” In other words, this offer removed the objection (cost / may not need it / may have a better offer elsewhere) and it added an upside (free golf putter whether you buy the heater or not.)

The standard DM success formula is that 70% of the response comes from selecting the correct LIST, 20% from selecting the correct OFFER, and just 10% from selecting the right CREATIVE.

4. Choose your FORMAT or “CREATIVE”. Choosing the right format for your marketing effort can be critical to its success. There are some key steps you should take to narrow in your target audience before you write your copy, design your layout, or print the first unit of mail.

Formats that appeal to consumers are:
a. Postcards – the bigger and shinier, the better. With a postcard, no envelope needs to be opened, so your copy is read by many more people than with an envelope (at least for basic consumer offers.)
b. Invitations. Everyone likes to be invited to a party, so an invitation-size mailing – preferably an A6 or A7 envelope with a live stamp and script font in blue ink – would be opened by most of the recipients.
c. Check letters. If you use a window envelope and the letter in the window looks like a live check, many people will open it. It’s a bit deceptive, so caution is the word of the day.
d. Rebate checks. We call these “snap-packs” in the industry. If you’ve ever gotten a rebate check from a purchase you made, you know what these are; you tear off three sides to reveal the check inside. Well, if the content inside is your offer, you’ve gotten through the hurdle: you’ve gotten the consumer to open it. It will get read by many people.

Formats that appeal to businesses are:
a. Legal Letters. These are closed-face envelopes made of high-quality, bright-white stock, personalized in a strong business-looking font. If the secretary / gatekeeper thinks it might contain personal information for the boss, you’ll get your document onto his/her desk.
b. Tactile Mailings. These are boxes that rattle and shake and usually contain a gift item. Everybody likes getting a free gift in the mail – even corporate execs. If it’s a toy or gimmick item, they still like to get them. Usually, they give the item to their kid or grandkid, since kids love getting gifts of any kind and it brings a smile to their face. If the secretary knows that the boss likes to give these items to his grandkids, you’ll get your mailing onto his desk.
c. Postcards. These may or may not get screened by the secretary. Again, the larger the better; we typically use 6″ high x 11″ wide postcards, the maximum size that can be sent at Standard Class (bulk) mail rates.

Of course, there are hundreds of other approaches to take, and it’s important to choose the appropriate format for your target audience. But there are many other steps to consider – style, offer, kit elements such as letter size, personalized vs. generic letter, lift note, business reply envelope or ‘courtesy’ reply envelope (postage NOT pre-paid), First Class Postage or Standard Class, pre-printed indicia / live stamp / meter imprint, etc. These are best implemented by a direct marketing agency or DM professional.

5. Determine your CAMPAIGN STRATEGY. Are you looking for one-shot sales, or do you want to build a long-term relationship with the prospect? One-off sales mean that you want to sell them one item (i.e. a vacuum cleaner) one time, get their money and be done with it. Long-term sales are for multiple-product or multiple-service fulfillment, i.e. vitamins or lifelong carpet cleaning. You always have to demonstrate credibility and reliability, but long-term sales require better BRANDING or POSITIONING to prove that you’re the best long-term choice.

6. Next, choose your COPY POSITIONING. If you are writing to business executives, use clear and concise business language. Don’t try to be clever, funny or whimsical; your audience will think your product is a joke. But if you are writing to homemakers about a product that will save them cleaning time and help them get through the stresses of managing a home, whimsy may help them relate to your product.

It’s always important to focus on the BENEFITS of your product rather than focusing on the FEATURES. Every product has features, but you have to present them in a way that your audience can relate to. What’s in it for them?

7. Finally, choose your FOLLOW-UP and ONGOING COMMUNICATION approach. In a long-term approach, you want to consider your choices for multi-media communication. In other words, you’ll want to capture the prospects email address and/or phone number so you can stay in touch with them over time. Then, you want to plan a series of email messages or mailings to present other offers and cross-sell opportunities. For expensive items, you want to schedule follow-up telemarketing and / or surveys to make sure the customer is satisfied.

In summary, it is generally a wise move to hire an expert to guide you through the many aspects of a successful direct mail campaign. A professional has done this type of work many, many times, and can keep you on track with both your strategy and tactics before you invest your marketing dollars. The money you save by short-cutting your way through the basics could cost you dearly in the long run. As we like to say in the industry, there are 1,000 steps to producing a successful DM campaign. The only one that people remember if you’re unsuccessful is the one that you missed.