Direct Mail: Costly but Personalized Promotion

Dec. 1, 2005
What you need to know to plan and launch a successful direct mail program

Of all the promotional tools at your disposal, direct mail is probably one of the most expensive, but at the same time, it is the most controlled and most personal. Despite this, marketing management often overlooks direct mail because it is usually only highly visible to companies that already enjoy using it properly. With a little thought and planning, direct mail can be cost-effective and even highly profitable.

Target Your Marketing Efforts

Keep in mind that direct mail probably is not feasible for your total market. This is especially true when a potential market includes more than 20,000 specifiers, prospects and decision makers. This means you have to systematically select the people you want to reach.

Fortunately, a number of direct mail list services offer very defined mailing lists. In addition, you also can rent portions of trade or business publications’ mailing lists.

After you have decided to carry out a direct mail effort, pinpoint the specific segment(s) of the total market you want to reach. This selection will help you tailor your message by allowing you to speak directly to the individuals who share a common need or concern.

Your agency or marketing staff can help you create a profile—by industry, title, SIC code, geographic area or other parameters—of the people you want to reach. At that point, it is usually best to have a mailing service handle all of the mechanics including getting the lists and sending out the mailing.

Your staff could do it, but the hassle is usually not worth the potential cost savings. Direct mail services specialize in this kind of work, so they are set up to handle your mailings quickly, efficiently and economically. In fact, during the design stage, they can give you ideas that might not only save you money but also increase the number and quality of responses to your mailing.

Getting Started

Before you launch your direct mail program, carefully examine the related postal regulations. Mistakes in mailing piece sizes and formats can make the pieces unmailable, so make sure to choose standard sizes and formats. Not meeting postal regulations can make direct mail very expensive for you. While most of us prefer to develop and use three- and four-color direct mail presentations, they are not necessary to ensure success. Remember, people are moved more by personal gain than by spectacular production. Be resourceful in what you do, and concentrate on making the direct mail effort functional and hard working.

If you feel your direct mail envelope must be creative, then develop a teaser line that implies some payoff after opening the envelope. But, according to direct mail specialists, the most successful direct mail efforts are those using first-class stamps on plain white envelopes with the name and address typed on the front.

If you do this, you will be assured that almost all of the mailings will at least be opened. Curiosity won’t permit anything else.

Postcard Potentials

While most marketing people tend to overlook government postcards as too simplistic, don’t eliminate this possibility. There is no stock to purchase, and there is room for a product photo (if necessary), message and company sign-off.

Obviously, you don’t have to worry about the postcard being opened. In fact, it probably will be read many times before it gets to the recipient. Government postcards can also be obtained in sheets and printed more economically by a printer.

Advantageous Advertising

Another inexpensive direct mail method is the reuse of your ads. Reprint them and use them in your mailing effort. You have already paid for most of the production and only have to print a new message on the backside.

Good direct mail, like good outdoor advertising, requires fast, sharp copy. Keep away from big words and long, involved sentences and paragraphs. Start off with strong reader benefits. Throughout the presentation, keep in mind that your prospect is only interested in, “what’s in this for me?” Then, after the benefits have been hammered home, tell them the descriptive facts about the product or service.

If the promotional mailing is going to include a letter, make it as strong as the pieces you are sending out. Even if it is a form letter, they will read it before your direct mail piece, so pre-sell with the letter. Color does help get a response, but don’t allow four-color to get in the way of a well-designed and well-written piece. For example, some companies have found that two-color direct mail efforts can draw attention as well as four-color pieces.

Anticipate Action

With a good direct mail effort, you want one of two responses. Either they order immediately, or they request more information. Because these are your objectives, consider having the order or information card attached as a perforated part of the mailing and printed in a different color so it stands out from the rest of the mailer.

Also, keep in mind postal regulations if they are to tear off, complete and return the card. In several instances, we have heard that response cards were too small to be mailed, and thus, a total waste of money.

When you are planning the direct mail part of your marketing and communications program, remember that the people you want to reach are just as busy as you are. And, they probably get just as much mail as you do. Therefore, plan your program and individual efforts with care and carry them out with as much concern as you would for a full-page ad. It is going to cost you as much, if not more, so make it just as effective.