7 Winning Strategies For Direct Mail

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The Internet has done little to diminish the effectiveness and power of direct mail. As our email inboxes bulge, a postcard or brochure is a welcome break. Direct mail can be picked up and read when it’s convenient, posted on the fridge as a reminder and passed along to a friend.

Direct mail is also effective. In a 2013 survey, 79 percent of consumers said they act on direct mail immediately, compared to 45 percent who said they did the same with email. And, a recent neuroscientific study that compared people’s reactions to direct mail ads and digital ads found direct mail ads superior in eight of nine categories.

But keep in mind that an effective direct mail campaign is far more than sticking stamps on a stack of postcards. Here are seven ways to make your direct mail campaigns more effective.

1. Determine the purpose of your direct mail.

Don’t think about how your direct mail will look, what it will say, when it will be mailed, etc., until you answer this all-important question:

What is the goal of this direct mail campaign?

Boil it down to a simple sentence. Here are examples of common goals.

Our goal for this direct mail campaign is to:

  • convince a customer to buy a product or service. (Example: You own an auto repair business; your direct mail offers a discount on an oil change.)
  • invite our audience to attend an event. (Example: You are a financial services professional; your mailer invites future retirees to a free seminar.)
  • encourage people to support a cause. (Example: Your nonprofit is raising funds to build a new facility for the homeless; your brochure tells them why they should provide financial support.)

2. Timing is everything. Pick the best time to send direct mail.

Is the purpose of your direct mail tied to a time of the year or an event? If you are selling snowblowers, you wouldn’t market them in the summer. If you are running for political office, you had better earn a voter’s support before Election Day. If you are raising money for your nonprofit’s holiday program, you best send your fundraising appeal before Thanksgiving.

Timing is also about events and changes in people’s lives. If you sell life insurance, you might target young couples who have just married. If you sell baby clothes, new parents are your audience. If you want to promote your moving company to homebuyers, you should reach out to people who are looking for a new home.

3. Make it a bullseye. Know who you should target.

The “direct” part of direct mail explains its power. Direct mail is aimed at a specific audience. After you identify that audience, you can narrow your mailing even further by pinpointing prospects within that audience that offer the best value or ROI.

For example:

  • Do you have a lawnmowing business to promote? Don’t just target homeowners in your area, target homes in neighborhoods with the largest yards.
  • Are you a remodeling contractor? Again, don’t just target all homeowners within a certain radius, pinpoint neighborhoods of older, larger homes.
  • Do you raise money for a nonprofit? Target donors who give the most money.
  • Are you a real estate agent who sells starter homes that are a bit on the high end? Target apartment dwellers who pay higher rents.

4. Motivate your audience. Write a call to action that makes people act.

As you develop copy for your direct mail, pay particular attention to the call to action, or CTA, known in marketing as “the offer.”

Let’s say your company installs clog-free gutters. You mail a postcard that describes the benefits these gutters offer, including testimonials from customers. The company phone number and website are on the card. You sit back and wait for the calls and emails.

Problem is, the phone probably won’t ring. People need a push. You must tell them to take an action, entice them with an offer or both.

Your postcard would probably get more results if you added: “Call now through Oct. 31 for a 20 percent discount on gutter installation.” Providing an offer—and a deadline – are keys to getting responses.

Make sure your CTA encompasses all the ways people can contact you. Including a phone number is critical, but remember, many prefer to reach out online, so include an email address, website or web address for a special landing page created specifically for this promotion.

5. A special delivery. Pick a format that delivers results.

If you collected a week’s worth of direct mail from your mailbox, you would have all shapes, sizes and types of mailers — postcards, brochures, letters, brochures, newsletters. Direct mail offers formats to fit every purpose.

It’s your job to decide which format best fits your direct mail campaign. If your campaign is a true campaign — in other words, a series of different mailings — you can use several formats, depending on the information and message you relay in each. Keep in mind that your mailings should be similar and cohesive so that recipients start to identify your company by its look or brand.

Here are some things to consider as you choose a format:

  • Is your message short and sweet? A postcard could be the most effective and least expensive.
  • Do you have a lot to say? It might be time for a multi-page letter, a brochure or a self-mailer with multiple pages.
  • Does your direct mail require a response envelope? For fund-raising campaigns, a reply card with its own return envelope—so that a check can be slipped inside—is key. A personalized reply slip for tracking is also a good idea.
  • If you want recipients to request more information, a detachable, postage-paid business reply card, would be appropriate.

6. Stamp of approval. The right postal class can pay off.

The class of postage you use depends on a number of factors, among them, the type of business you are in (profit vs. nonprofit) and the number of pieces you will mail.

  • Nonprofits: If your organization is recognized as an approved nonprofit by the U.S. Postal Service, the presort, nonprofit postage rate is usually your best bet. Nonprofit postal rates are about half of the cost of what a for-profit entity would be charged. Given nonprofits’ tight budgets, they should take advantage of this rate at every opportunity.
  • For-profit organizations: Pre-sort standard mail, also known as bulk mail, offers many advantages. If your direct mail piece is letter-size, you will typically save 30 to 40 percent. The savings are even greater if your mailer is a larger, flat piece. The downsides are slower delivery and the fact that undeliverable mail is not returned or forwarded.

Most companies steer clear of first-class for direct mail, because the rate is much higher. However, if direct mail is letter-size and the mailing is small in number, the cost is not a great deal more. It’s good to keep this in mind if you have important mailers whose ROI might be improved by first-class delivery.

First-class postcards are also a great value for short messages that need to be disseminated quickly. For example, if your college received a prestigious ranking, a first-class postcard might be a good vehicle for announcing the news. Keep in mind though that the maximum size for a first-class postcard is 4 ¼ by 6 inches. So your message must be brief and of course, given its small size, there’s a chance this card might end up hidden within other mail.

7. Measure your outcomes. Track responses to your direct mail campaign.

Just as scientists measure their research, you must measure the effectiveness of your direct mail. There are many ways to do this, and as you design your direct mail, make sure that you have included some type of measurement tool in your design. Here are a few ideas.

  • If you own a bakery and want to enroll customers in your “Cupcake for your Birthday” Club, include the web address for a specific landing page you create for sign ups. It’s a fast and easy way to get a quick read on how many people sign up. But make sure you also give those who might not use a computer another way to become a member of your club—phone calls or printed, mail-in forms are a couple of options.
  • A mailing that includes a discount coupon is also an easy way to measure direct mail’s effectiveness. Simply count the coupons redeemed by the coupon’s deadline.
  • If your mailing focuses on a single item—for example, bow ties for Easter outfits—sales of bow ties will give you an indication of your direct mail campaign’s success.

Bill Nichols

June 19, 2017

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