Get the best tips for small businesses on direct mail marketing from Marketing Zone.
- Tips about what works for direct mail
- Tips about what doesn’t work for direct mail
- Tips for beginners new to direct mail
What works for direct mail
Targeting people (prospects and existing customers) who will become profitable long-term customers
- Offering a free gift or participation in a sweepstakes attracts people who want to win something. These are not qualified, interested prospective buyers of your product or service.
- You may want to offer something that demonstrates your expertise (a report or white paper), or a free trial or demonstration. These will attract people who are interested in what you are offering or selling.
Direct mail works because of a combination of things:
- Sent to the right person (a great list)
- A relevant offer that will cause people to act now
- Compelling copywriting
- The format (letter, postcard, catalog, self-mailer or an involved direct mail package)
- Creative professional graphic design
- Sent at the right time
Direct mail experts all agree that:
- Who you mail to, your list, is most important. This is seen as having as much as 40% impact in the success of a direct mail campaign. Many small businesses don’t realize the huge return of investing the time to select the best possible list.
- The offer is the next most important variable in success. It’s viewed to have another 40% impact on success.
- The copywriting and graphic design together are seen to be of lesser importance.
Test. Adjust. Improve. Repeat.
Mail to people most likely to respond to direct mail:
- People with a proven history of acting on direct mail offers. Make this a list selection criteria.
- Subscribers to publications read by prospects in your targeted market
- People who have requested information about your products or services similar to what you are offering/selling
- Your own customer list
Grab your reader’s interest quickly
- Start with the #1 benefit in the headline
- Include more benefits in the first paragraph
- Begin with the word “you.” For example, “Do you pay too much for…” or “How would you like to save up to 60% on…”
Identify a need and show your reader how you can fill that need
Involve and engage the reader
- Keep the reader interested by asking questions, giving examples and using testimonials
- Involve the reader by asking them to check boxes, answer a question, fill in the blank, jot down some numbers, or circle words
- Other devices such as stickers, stamps, rub-offs, cartoons, or embossing are techniques for improving response rates
Repeat your main offer and the major benefits at least three times
Educate your prospective buyers in a helpful, respectful way
- Imagine you are sitting across the table from him/her and explaining things
- Your words should be honest and believable
- Talk about your prospects needs and/or problems they want to overcome
Turn features into benefits for the prospect
Features are specifications which are helpful to experienced buyers, not to prospects. See for yourself, what is more convincing?
- “This is a 300 dpi printer” (spec/feature)
- “This printer enables you to print lab-quality photos at home” (benefit)
Whenever possible, use facts and specific numbers to support the benefits. For example, “This printer enables you to print lab-quality photos at home because of its 300 dots per inch printing capability.”
Appeal to several underlying reasons why people buy
- To make money or more money
- To protect family
- To save money
- To have or hold beautiful possessions
- To avoid effort
- To satisfy appetite
- To gain more comfort
- To emulate others
- To achieve greater cleanliness
- To avoid trouble
- To be safe
- To be individual
- To attain fuller health
- To protect reputation
- To escape physical pain
- To take advantage of opportunities
- To gain praise
- To have safety in buying something else
- To be popular
- To make work easier
- To conserve possessions
- To gratify curiosity
- To increase enjoyment
Don’t use jargon
- Use everyday language that everyone understands, not words that are known only in your business or industry.
- Have someone in junior high read your copy and ask them to circle all the words they don’t understand. Then change the words and try again until they understand what you are saying.
Don’t oversell and overpromise with too many adjectives
- Get someone to go through your copy with a job to be a “Hype Protector” to get them to identify any words that seem too good to be true
- Try to use words and language that your best salesperson would use when talking to someone in person. Great salespeople don’t say things like “This is fabulous!” They tell the prospective buyer the benefits (emotional and logical) to make the person believe it is fabulous.
- Know that all people, especially younger buyers, are extremely skeptical about marketing “hype.” Aim to be straightforward, honest, and clear like a great feature article in a reputable magazine.
- Don’t use exclamation points. An exclamation point screams “hype!” and “oversell!”
Make both an emotional and rationale appeal
Your copy must address the customer’s right and left brains. Aim for a balance of rational reasons to buy/try, and an emotional appeal as well.
Vary the length of each paragraph
But remember that short paragraphs and sentences work best
Tell your story with headlines, subheads and captions to photos and illustrations
Most readers will only scan the body copy. Make sure your key messages are conveyed solely through your headlines, illustrations, and photos.
Years of testing has found that readers see elements on a page in a certain order almost every time:
- Pictures or illustrations
- Charts or graphs
- Body copy
Call out key information using these techniques
- Underline key words or use a second color to make a point
- Hand write a short note in the margin
- Include visuals with captions to explain what you do/offer
- Use subheads
- Create flowcharts and illustrations to explain how things work in a visual way
- Attach a post-it note with key information
- Use bulleted lists people can easily scan
Highlight your credentials after you have gained sufficient interest
- Your credentials need to address the prospects question “why talk to them?”
- List third party acknowledgement of your credentials – awards, articles in the press, your affiliations with recognized associations
- If you’ve been in business more than three years, note how long you’ve been in business
- If you’ve been in business less than three years, highlight that you are new and what relevant expertise you have
If your business location is hard to find, include a simple map
You can also include cross-streets or a local known landmark.
When sending direct mail in an envelope, the envelopes that work best to get people to open them are more expensive and unique with:
- multiple windows
- mailing tubes
- brown paper bags
- and ones with creative teaser copy on the front
Ask your prospective customer to do something
- Make it as easy as possible for them to contact you by listing multiple ways for them to respond – by phone, through your web site, via email, through the mail, by coming into your store or office
- Give them a benefit for doing something
- Give them a sense of urgency with a deadline
- For example: “Please call me. My toll-free direct line is 800-000-0000. I’ll be able to answer your specific questions and get a quote ready for you within one day.” Or, “Schedule a free visit in the office for a 30-minute consultation and get a copy of our booklet ’10 ways to save money on home insurance.'”
It’s important that direct mail be received as you expect. There are techniques to coat and prepare direct mail to be more durable.
Use a P.S. at the end of your letter whenever possible
- Research shows a startling jump in response rates when an offer is mentioned in the P.S. Why? Because tests show that people scan a direct mail and often read the P.S. line first.
- Make sure it highlights the benefit and offer. If that hooks them, then they’ll go back and read the rest of your copy.
Make it clear and easy for the reader to contact your company
- Include an address, phone number, fax number, e-mail address, and a web address if your company has a website.
- Before you print your direct mail, ask someone to look at it with the assignment to tell you how they’d contact you. Time them. Watch them. It should be really fast and easy for them to find your contact information. If it’s not, change it before you mail.
An effective technique is to:
- Create and send a lower-cost piece such as a letter, postcard, or e-mail frequently
- Create a larger, high quality printed brochure or mailer for more valuable customers and/or as a follow-up to the first mailer for prospects very targeted list
What doesn’t work for direct mail
Don’t just mail a brochure. That’s too expensive and doesn’t have a sense of urgency or offer.
Falling in love with a “creative idea.” It’s not creative unless it sells. Don’t let a graphic designer or agency convince you that something is “clever” or “so creative.” Direct mail is about a great relevant offer that is so compelling it will cause someone to take action (call, click, come in). Direct marketing experts have learned through extensive testing what works and what doesn’t.
Not caring about the words. Little things matter a lot in direct mail. Experts in direct mail copywriting have learned the hard way what works and what doesn’t. Inexperienced copywriters want to experiment with your money.
Too many variables in a test so you don’t know what really worked and what didn’t. For instance, you change what’s on the outside of the envelope, the offer and add a toll free number. Was it the combination? The offer? The copy change? The toll free number? You don’t know.
Not coding your mailings. If you don’t assign each mailing a particular number code that helps you track what you mailed, when, with what offer, you won’t be able to compare what works and what doesn’t to know how to improve continuously. Coding is a simple way to track who responds to which mailings and offers. You can then determine what mailings work best to what segments of customers or track response rates to individual customers.
Not taking the time to test your mailing list. It’s smart to mail to a small sample of your mailing list to check results. If it doesn’t work well to 5% of the list, why do you think it will work well for the other 95%? The cost of direct mail is in printing and mailing the pieces. Test it.
Not being prepared to handle customer responses immediately and quickly. That’s a challenge with a mass mailing. Most people will call or contact you at once. It may be wiser to mail in batches so your customer service for these new prospects will be more responsive.
Passing on sales leads from direct response to sales people at your company or at a distributor or reseller that aren’t followed up on in a timely manner. Are you monitoring if the sales team is using these leads? Following up on them within a few days after receiving them while they’re still “hot”?
Not using the outside of the envelope to start selling and increase likelihood that the letter is opened.
Mailing one time. Direct mail works on frequency.
New approaches for direct mail
Digital printing (also called personal printing) where a commercial printer with digital press equipment and computers can personalize mailings.
Tips for beginners
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Learn from and adopt the proven, tested direct mail best practices.
Hire an expert in direct mail with expertise in your type of business
Know that direct mail is a lot like a science experiment. You make a hypothesis and test the variables in a quantified, measurable way and then adjust.