Direct mail refers to postcards, flyers, or even letters a business sends by postal mail to potential customers. While email marketing eliminated print and postage costs, making it a very popular form of direct-response marketing, a shift is happening. Anti-spam legislation and spam filters have caused many mainstream advertisers to change tactics.
As a result, the use of direct mail is on the upswing. This tool can be incredibly effective as long as you follow a few simple guidelines.
Direct Mail: The Basics
Direct mail is a direct-response form of advertising. Direct-response marketing is designed to produce an immediate response: a phone call, a web visit or a sale. For example, an infomercial is a form of direct-response marketing. The message, "Call within the next five minutes and you can save 30%," seeks a direct and immediate response.
Direct mail also seeks a direct response. Your goal is to pitch your product or service to a customer and generate a sale. While the customer may save your direct mail piece for later reference, chances are most will not. A great direct mail piece delivers a simple message and provides a clear call to action. A postcard that says, "We are the leaders in the travel planning industry," does not create a call to action. On the other hand a postcard saying, "Book your trip by Friday and get 10% off," does create a powerful call to action.
Develop Your Campaign Message
Here are the basic steps for developing your direct mail campaign:
- Determine what you will offer. Feature a product, a service or a bundle of products and services. What do you want the customer to purchase? What action do you wish to generate? All advertising campaigns start with this basic premise; direct mail is no different. Know what you want to accomplish.
- Think about visuals. This step is easy. Save your mail for a few days. Then take a close look at each piece of direct mail you have received. What caught your eye? Why? What pieces did you immediately skim over? Why? In effect, don't try to reinvent the wheel. Learn from what works.
- Focus on benefits. What you offer is not important to a customer; the benefit they receive from what you offer is all-important. If you sell water-purification systems, for example, a headline such as, "We Provide a Wide Range of Water Purification Systems" does describe what you do, but what is the benefit? Instead, a headline like, "Cleaner, Safer Water – Guaranteed" describes a clear benefit.
- Don't assume your offer is self-explanatory. Your customers may understand the basics of your offer, but if you hook them with an effective headline, they will want to know more. What is your average customer's excuse to not buy? Installation? Delivery schedules? Long-term service? Think about what causes customers to hesitate, and then work to overcome those objections.
- Focus on the offer, not on superlatives. Words like "amazing," "incredible," and "unbelievable" do not generate a positive reader reaction. Instead of using superlatives, clearly state the benefits of your offer. Instead of "store-wide savings," be more specific: "20% off all tools, this weekend only." Make sure the reader can immediately understand what he or she will receive by responding to your call to action.
- Always include a call to action. Follow a salesperson's golden rule: ask for the sale. If you do not include a call to action your direct mail campaign simply creates greater brand awareness. Don't simply list phone numbers; ask the reader to make the call, visit your website, come to the store, etc. Don't assume they will get it. Ask.
Create the Piece
How you deliver your message can be as important as what you say. Postcards work well for most businesses, but not all. If you sell products, postcards printed on high-quality paper can work well. If you provide legal or financial services, a letter may be much more effective.
Think about the impression you wish to make. Then figure out how to cost-effectively make that impression.
- Use paper stock to enhance communication. If you sell bulk or discount items, paper quality is not as important. If you sell high-end products or services, high quality paper will communicate your message more effectively.
- Use color wisely. Color catches the eye, but make sure the overall effect is professional and pleasing. Choose one or two main colors consistent with your brand to ensure your direct mail campaign matches your overall brand perception. Then think about how using other colors will enhance your message. In short, your direct mail piece should "feel" like your website, your stationery and your overall business identity.
- Consider postage costs. Bulk-sorted mail is cheaper than first-class mail, but you will have to understand and meet post office requirements. If you plan to mail thousands of pieces, consider hiring a fulfillment provider to prepare and sort your mail; the money you save on postage should cover their fees.
Also consider the recipient's first impression, If you provide high-end services, your customers will likely expect a personally-addressed, hand-stamped envelope rather than generic bulk mailing.
Evaluate the Results
One advantage of direct mail campaigns is the ease of evaluating its effectiveness. Simply total the sales generated by the campaign and compare those numbers to the cost of running the campaign. You can quickly gauge whether the campaign was effective – and whether you should change your message, your offer, or the way you create the physical piece.