I would wager that most business owners under the age of 35 probably have never even considered running a direct mail marketing campaign for their business. Having grown up in an increasingly paperless world, the mere concept of spending precious marketing dollars on printing up thousands of pieces of paper to stuff into mailboxes across a large swath of people seems pretty crazy to the younger generation of entrepreneurs – and it’s not a baseless feeling. There’s no denying that the business world (and our world in general) has been dramatically swinging toward the quicker, more efficient, much cheaper, and much more environmentally friendly realm of electronic communication. But does direct mail marketing actually work?
If you’re going to do direct mail, you gotta do it right
But before any of you young guns scoff and discount the idea of a mail marketing campaign, you might want to read through this blog entry. Direct mail, while certainly a dinosaur in the world of marketing, can still be a powerful weapon in your arsenal – if it’s done correctly and intelligently, of course. We’ll lay out a few broad tips for you to consider if carrying out a direct mail campaign. While we would still urge the majority of business owners toward a more electronic/Internet based marketing strategy, you can still get solid results from direct mail.
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1. Follow the 40/40/20 Rule
If you’ve read this blog before, you know how heavily we stress the importance of preparing, making a well-thought out and comprehensive plan, and then executing against it. Well, it’s no different for direct mail marketing, and the tried-and-true approach for this tried-and-true method of marketing is known as the 40/40/20 rule. This rule dictates that the success and eventual ROI of your direct mail marketing efforts are going to be dependent upon three factors – 40% of your success will come from how effective your mailing list is, another 40% will depend on how compelling your offer is, and the remaining 20% will come from everything else (design, the copy/text of the mailing, the images you’ve chosen, delivery date and method, etc.).
Don’t waste time on the design
While this is obviously more of a guideline than a hard-fast rule, if nothing else it should show you where your efforts need to be placed when undertaking a direct mail marketing campaign. Too often, business owners will spend an inordinate amount of time on coming up with the flashiest, snazziest, most eye-catching design that they are sure will blow everyone away, and then rush to put together the offer and/or the list of folks to send it to. It’s one of the most common mistakes of a mail marketing campaign.
Focus on defining who your audience is
If your store is offering a limited-time discount on Life Alert bracelets, you know you don’t need to waste time and more importantly money sending the promotional materials to anyone under the age of 55. Unless you have limitless pockets, simply blanketing an area or zip code with your offer is a great way to waste money.
Once your list is targeted, you need to spend an equally large portion of time coming up with a great deal – even if it means you might lose a bit of money on it. The underlying goal of any marketing campaign is to gain new customers, and it’s worth it to significantly reduce your profit margins to gain said customers. Once you have a surgically-honed list and an amazing offer, then you can spend some time on the design, copy, delivery methods, postage rates, date of delivery, size of the mailer…there are a lot of other options to consider, but following the 40/40/20 rule you can see how important audience and offer truly are.
2. Test The Market
This ties into the first 40 of the 40/40/20 rule – even if you have what you feel is a great and well-defined target list, you won’t truly know how great it is until you test it. If you operate a business in a smaller community, this won’t be as critical – but if you’re in a medium or large city, it can be crucial. Using the example above, even if you know that the Life Alert bracelet offer is meant for seniors, in a city like San Francisco or New York, you wouldn’t want to send it to everyone over the age of 55 citywide. Instead, select one (or in a very large city, several) small area to test the market out. Start small and measure the effectiveness and ROI along every step of the way.
You can (and should) run several tests with small tweaks to find the most effective combination of audience, offer, and design before sending it out wide – just remember to only change one variable per test or you won’t know what caused the changing result.
3. Make a Great Call to Action
This ties into the second 40 of the 40/40/20 rule – now you’re probably beginning to see why that was listed up front and why it’s universally considered the gold standard when it comes to direct mail marketing guidelines. With other forms of advertisements or marketing, it is perfectly acceptable to only go after impressions – a billboard in a highly-trafficked area or a TV spot that is more of a teaser in nature can sometimes go a long way toward educating the public of your existence, which is the first step in getting them to engage. With direct mailings however, you might as well be printing cash to send out to people if you don’t have a compelling call to action to give people.
The call to action doesn’t have to be a sale or discount – it could be advertising a contest or promotion, or incentivizing people to conduct an online survey. Regardless of the nature of the call to action, there must at least BE a call to action. Direct mailing is most certainly not the avenue to send out a blank postcard or flyer that simply informs people of your presence – it’s too expensive, too time consuming, and too hard to efficiently track metrics to garner simple impressions.
…and the Don’ts
1. Fail to Proofread/Quality Control
Even though this falls into just one of the myriad of elements in the 20 portion of the 40/40/20 rule, it is arguably the most important. Nothing will get your piece of direct mail marketing throw into the trash bin more quickly than a glaring typo, a noticeable formatting issue, or an overall poor print quality. If you’re writing the copy, be sure to not only proof it yourself but also have some of your more linguistically-inclined friends and colleagues give it a once over, not only for grammatical and punctuation mistakes but for overall ease of reading and flow. Don’t be afraid to seek as many trusted opinions as possible, and be sure to have thick skin to prepare for any constructive criticisms.
For the design element, odds are that unless you have an artistic background, you’ll be either using a pre-existing template from your printer or having it designed by a graphics designer. The templates from your printer will more than likely have an effective eye flow and a solid ratio of graphics to text – if you go the designer route, be sure to get several mock ups and again seek the opinions of those around you whose opinion you value. And finally, print quality should be self-explanatory – be sure to go with a printer that offers some sort of guarantee on quality, or at the very least one that will offer you a refund or reprint if you’re not 100% satisfied. The last thing you’d want to do is have to settle on a poorly printed mailer to save costs.
2. Forget to Follow Up
After all is said and done, you’ll be left with a handful of people that have come in and transacted business with you based purely on your piece of mail. You can track this in any number of ways (coupon codes, requiring them to bring the mail in, comparing sales numbers from highlighted items on sale versus when they’re not, etc.), but be sure to track it in an easily manageable fashion. This will allow you to re-engage with those customers with whom your mail marketing was successful.
It can be as simple as sending them a thank-you note or adding them to a “VIP” list that you can use later and will be comprised only of folks that you know are responding and acting upon your mail marketing efforts. Regardless of how you do it, don’t forget it – these people are worth their weight in gold when undertaking your next mail campaign.
3. Forget To Drive Traffic Online
Even though this article is focused entirely on mail marketing, let’s be honest – it won’t be long until direct mail is pretty much a relic of a bygone era. And that’s perfectly okay – changing times call for changing tactics. While some business owners have opted to chuck mail marketing into the trash bin altogether, a more transitional option would be to reduce the amount spent on mail marketing but direct the recipients of the mail toward your business’s online front.
A simple and cheap postcard that incentivizes and encourages people to follow you on a certain social media platform, hosting an online sale with coupon codes that are distributed via mail, using QR codes to unlock small freebie items, or giving additional entries into a contest hosted on your business’s website are all great methods that not only give your direct mail a strong call to action, but drive traffic to your online footprint as well, which will only continue to grow in importance through the years.
Great post! Direct mail has many great benefits as long as you’re utilizing the tools correctly. Proofreading is one of the most important, least focused on aspects of direct mail. If you have typos then you’re going to make the customer question you.
Great tips! Making sure you have a call to action is the most important step of any marketing campaign. If that’s not clear to your customer then you’re not likely to see the response you want.
Interesting post! Direct mail marketing is still one of the best ways to target audiences attention and a key strategy in overall marketing plans of businesses.
I like that you specifically mentioned art design and quality control. I get it, mail marketing design is hard sometimes, but nothing is going to make me less interested in your product than sloppy design. I won’t name names, but I get catalogs sent to my house by a major music retailer and those things are a NIGHTMARE to read. Product layouts that change from page to page, inconsistent use of pictures, it was just rough. I get not everyone has that Restoration Hardware/IKEA budget for catalogs (especially in an industry that doesn’t rely on them as much anymore, so maybe it’s not the fairest comparison) but a little more time and care will make me much more interested in whatever this year’s new Fender is.
Very helpful info for me, who has spent 35 years in traditional PR and Advertising. Thanks