German blacksmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the mechanical movable-type printing press in the year 1439. Widely regarded as one of the most important inventions in human history, Gutenberg’s printing press revolutionized the printing technology of medieval times, transformed the way knowledge was disseminated throughout Europe and introduced the concept of mass communication and the free flow of information to society. Quite simply, the printing press was instrumental in ushering in the modern era. It also heralded the start of mass printed direct marketing which has been for driving force for all manners of human progress. One thing is for certain, not long after the printing press came into existence, people started sending out mass printed marketing pieces, and they’ve been tracking the results ever since.
Direct Mail for the 21st Century
Though there are some business models that depend entirely on direct mail marketing, most companies utilize direct mail as one tool in a larger mix of their overall marketing efforts. These can also include internet advertising, email campaigns, and traditional advertising outlets, such as print, radio, TV, and billboards. There are also multiple formats for direct mail campaigns, the most popular being:
• #10 Letter-sized envelopes
• Oversized envelopes
• Dimensional mailers (includes pop-ups or 3D cards or anything that creates bulk)
• Booklets and catalogs
In today’s direct mail, companies have a wide array of choices and creative options at their fingertips that put their message directly in the hands of their clients or prospective customers. Though it may only be for a few precious seconds, most people will see your direct mail piece as they sort through their daily mail. The advantage is, if you have an attention-grabbing headline, an amazing offer or an irresistibly creative mailer, then your mailer stands an excellent chance of receiving further investigation from the recipient.
When you purchase ad space in a publication or run commercials on TV or radio, you are paying to reach a vast audience with a wide demographic but you have no idea if potential customers are actually paying attention to your ad. With direct mail, you know exactly who is receiving your piece. You know where they live (obviously). You can measure your results quite easily, and you can follow up if you choose to do so. Direct mail is extremely versatile and allows for unlimited options in managing your campaigns. By using one of the oldest forms of traditional advertising, you can step up your creativity and increase your control.
Results Can Vary
As you might suspect, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, and ironically, size matters when it comes to direct mail results. In general, the direct mail response rate varies from three to five percent. Yet, there are many factors that can substantially increase (or decrease) the number of recipients who respond. Direct mail is not an exact science. However, if you use some proven best practices, you can greatly enhance your chances for positive results.
Before you start mapping out a campaign, here are a few questions to ask:
• Are using an in-house list or purchased list?
• Are you marketing business-to-business or directly to consumers?
• Are you mailing to an existing customer base of people familiar with your company, or are you reaching out to total strangers, hoping to generate new leads?
• Are you considering a long-term direct mail campaign, or is this a one-time trial?
• What are your goals for your direct mail efforts, and do you have a system in place to track your results?
The answers to these questions should influence how you manage your direct mail efforts. It’s also important to understand that some direct mail formats do better than others. Part of the direct mail challenge is to choose the proper format for the right offering. Dimensional mailers are effective but obviously more expensive and require more postage than postcards. People love catalogs and have a tendency to keep them over time, which can mean more sales down the road.
Not sure what option is right for your business? According to the Direct Marketing Association, the following formats have consistent response rates that typically exceed 3.5 percent:
1. Oversized envelopes
3. Dimensional mailers
5. #10 Letter-sized envelopes
The art of direct mail success is being able to match the right format to the right audience. In many cases, it’s wise to work closely with an expert in direct mail marketing to determine what will work best.
One of the great benefits of direct mail is the ability to zero in on specific potential customers, based on targeted mailing lists drawn from relevant data. There are mailing lists built on just about every criterion imaginable. Compiling effective mailing lists can be a time-consuming task that requires diligence and ongoing upkeep. Accurate and reliable mailing lists are worth their weight in gold. When you are investing your time and money into a direct mail campaign, you want to make sure every piece is going to the right recipient. In a mass mailing, a variable of less than one percent can make a huge difference in the success or failure of your campaign.
What Motivates Customers?
When it comes to designing your direct mail piece, the most important question to answer is what will motivate your customers to respond? The first decision a recipient will make is whether to open your offering or toss it in the trash. Headlines are crucial. As people sort through their mail, they will view your direct mail piece and assess your headline in the blink of an eye. If your headline doesn’t grab them, they’re not going to proceed. It’s worth putting in a lot of effort to create a great headline. If you have the benefit of compiled results from previous campaigns, you can see what headlines have worked in the past. It’s also critical to have a strong call to action. Informative direct mail pieces are useful, but effective direct mail campaigns always contain a call to action with a deadline. Without one, your customers will be left wondering what to do next.
In developing a relationship with your clients, consistency is vital. From the moment a potential customer receives your piece in the mail, to their initial visit to your website and ultimately when they decide to place an order, it’s essential that your brand communicates a consistent and reliable message. Design is the visual key to brand consistency. Your direct mail piece should reflect what your company is all about. Sending a cheap postcard to announce a yearly sale for a luxury brand can have an adverse effect. Further, coordinating a consistent message in your marketing efforts across multiple channels will increase the effectiveness of your direct mail campaign. The more ways people see your message, the more likely they are to respond.
The Power of Drip
Drip campaigns are arranged in advance to send multiple direct mail pieces to the same customer over a specified timeline. Savvy direct marketers understand a one-time mailing will yield results but multiple contacts with the same customer over time will greatly increase the chances of rising above the clutter and making an impression. Here’s how it works. The first piece might be a campaign teaser postcard announcing, “The Next Big Thing Is Coming.” The follow-up self-mailer, entitled, “The Next Big Thing,” arrives one week later and thoroughly explains the pitch. After that, a letter with headline, “Did You See the Next Big Thing?” gives the recipient another opportunity to respond to your campaign.
It Only Takes One
The beauty of direct mail is that printed materials have a life of their own. One piece can be seen by multiple people. Mailers with coupons can be shared. Catalogs can live on a coffee table for months, and postcards go up on the refrigerator. If you happen to be selling an expensive, big ticket item, a single sale can cover the cost of the entire mailing. Each time your mailing piece is seen, it makes an impression and possibly encourages a customer to take the next step. Because direct mail goes directly to your customers, you can be assured they’ll be holding your message in their hands. In other words, calculating the results of a direct mail campaign encompasses more than just adding up the responses to your call to action.