Direct Mail Strategies That Work

In my previous post I dated 10/4/13 I wrote about and displayed statistics showing the favorable performance of direct mail in a cost per lead comparison to other popular marketing communications mediums. In this post I’ll touch on some best practices and ideas to maximize your direct mail efforts.

It All Starts With a Good List

As technology advances, so has the depth and quality of data; in particular mailing lists. Generally speaking, depending on what your business or organization is and what your goals are, the best list to use or start with is your own house list. These are people who have either purchased from you in the past, have expressed interest in doing so, or are prospects you are cultivating. People do business with people they know, like, and trust so a familiar face or name is the best asset you have. If some people on your house list haven’t bought from you for awhile, now is a good time to approach these folks and inspire them to return.

Beyond your house list, renting a list from an experienced list broker can provide you with segmented and targeted contacts to approach that may be strangers, but comprise people with interests and demographics that align with your business and direct mail message.

Managing a proper and well-performing mailing list can take time and be tedious for some, but it’s vital to the performance and ROI of your efforts.

What Format/Style Is Your Audience?

Design and focus on direct mail aimed at your audience. Whether playful, loud, and flashy, or more conservative and business-like, craft the graphic design and content writing that clearly expresses your intention that’s appropriate and relevant to your audience. For one mailing, a fun postcard would work best while for another an envelope mailing comes off as more credible. A good practice is to collect direct mail pieces that catch your eye and form an idea generating foundation for your next direct mail marketing campaign. These samples also help with the planning and discussions you have with your printing/mailing provider or marketing firm.

The Impact of Postcards

Direct mail doesn’t have to be large and expensive to be effective. The U.S. Postal Service found that postcards are the mail format most likely to be read or scanned.

It may be that postcards don’t take much time to read. This means that to be effective, the prospect needs to understand your offer within seconds of glancing at it. Some of the same rules apply to postcards as to emails in terms of how much information can be effectively communicated.

Test postcard performance by using your best-performing promotional email as the starting point. Put the image and header on one side and the body copy on the other. Oversized postcards tend to get more attention, so try a large-format card size. Then see how your postcard test performs against email.

Remember, postcards are a great deal less expensive to print and mail than most forms of direct mail.

When Is an Envelope Not Just an Envelope?

If you are using envelopes, your mailing may be ripe for some testing. The “functional”purpose of the envelope is to contain the contents inside. But “marketing” purpose is getting the recipient to open it and look inside. Consider a message on the outer envelope to encourage an open; and further consider testing different messages – either within the same mailing or over multiple mailings – to help determine which perform best. Include testing a blind outer envelope, with only your return address as well; they can sometimes pull better than an envelope with a teaser line because they don’t notify recipients that they are opening a solicitation. The best approach relies heavily on the audience and the offer. Test, Test, Test.

Personalization Works Best

Personalized communications will almost always out-perform generic pitches in all categories.

But using a person’s name is just the beginning—the content needs to be personalized as well. For example, if you are marketing high tech products that run on different platforms, users will have different hot buttons. A generic message that focuses on only one platform will not be relevant to other customers. Wording that tries to cover issues for all platforms will be cumbersome and uninteresting to most recipients. It’s worth the extra time and small expense to assure that your piece says the right thing to the right people.

Strike When the Iron Is Hot!

Direct mail campaigns used to take weeks to execute because of the time it took to develop concepts, print, etc. That can still be true of large and elaborate campaigns, but now marketers can take advantage of digital print-on-demand.

This allows you to be far more flexible in how you use direct mail. For example, American Signature Furniture once conducted a test, sending a self-mailer to people who visited a showroom but did not buy. The mailer included the customers’ names and the name and contact information for the sales rep who served them, as well as the date and time of the visit. Photos displayed the styles they considered during their visit to the store.

Results were impressive. People who receive the mailer and return to purchase spend about 40% more than those who did not receive the mailer. The reminder also boosted return visits to the store by 10%.

Use direct mail as an adjunct to other sales and promotion efforts. Salespeople who complete a sales call can drop a postcard in the mail on the same day, thanking the customer and perhaps offering a special discount. Direct mail can support an email campaign as well.

Of course, seasonality is important. If your swimming pool-supply business peaks during the warm months, be sure to send direct mail in March reminding pool owners of the delights of the summer to come—and the importance of having a clean, sparkling pool to enjoy.

Go Dimensional

3-D or dimensional mailings, whether they take the form of a box with a teaser on the outside or a tube, outperform standard formats by 250%, according to the DMA, but increase the cost per lead by only 50%.
Use dimensional mailers with high-value prospects, and make an even higher impact by following up with a telemarketing call.  I’ve seen a combination of email, direct mail, and telemarking consistently yield a 13% to 15% response, and once you have them engaged on the phone you can qualify them for lead quality and pass the “A” leads immediately onto the sales department.

Test Test Test Test Test

Amid a plethora of promotional techniques that are extremely hard to quantify (such as social media marketing), direct mail remains refreshingly measurable. Every lead or order can be traced back using source codes or other techniques. This allows you to experiment with different approaches to determine which ones are the most successful. It also allows you to quantify your ROI and justify costs.

Another useful testing process if A/B testing. Within a given mailing, split the list in half with half the recipients receiving Headline or Offer A and the other half receiving Headline or Offer B. Assign a code to each Headline/Offer and track the returns as they come in. This can provide valuable data for not only evaluating the results of that mailing, but for planning and strategy going forward.

Find out how direct mail may generate leads for YOU

Contact Tom Brassard at Paw Print & Mail to learn how direct mail can best perform for your business or organization. Call 802-865-2872 or email

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