You have a new product to promote, an event to announce, and the sales team needs leads…any of these sound familiar? Your next step may be to turn to marketing for the infamous magic bullet to solve all your problems. You’re in a scramble: you just need to get something out to get results. We’ve all been there.
Before we turn to mail – and specifically DIRECT mail – we first need to ask three simple questions:
- Is the mailing targeted?
- Is there a call to action?
- Can responses be measured?
If you answered “yes” to all three questions, then (and only then) do we plug ahead with the direct mail piece, always keeping in mind these 11 “musts” of direct mail.
1. Determine the objective of the mailer and critical success factors before it goes out.
Why are we sending this communication? Is it to generate leads, drive traffic to a branch or store, increase sales of a product line? The objective should be very clear. This will shape the critical success factors (CSFs). How will we know if “it worked”? I love the line “direct mail never really worked, so we don’t do it.” What will make us stand up and shout, “This direct mail was a success!”? Are we counting the number of leads/responses we get (lead response rate), traffic by way of coupon/offer redemption (make sure your operations team [staffing for data entry, phone support, offices, etc.] is equipped to report back redemption of the coupon/offer), sales figures of the featured product within a specified timeframe (this is less accurate since it cannot be directly tied to the direct mail piece specifically), or cost per sale (CPS) or cost per lead (CPL) measurements?
2. Have a call to action (CTA).
Duh, right?! What do you want me to do once I get your mailer? I once received a B2B postcard with the message “Introducing the Xerox iGen3™” and a list of features on the back. It also listed a phone number and web address. So…WHY would I call or visit your website? The CTA is directly tied to the offer. Make it clear what you want people to do and why they should do it. For the B2B postcard example, “Get 20% off your next personalized print order using the iGen3™. Call 888-xxx-xxxx or visit www.urlhere.com” would have made the communication much more effective.
3. Give your audience multiple channels to respond.
Some people prefer to talk; others prefer to use mail or go online. If possible, don’t pigeonhole your audience into being able to respond only one way. Give the option to call, go online, visit your office or branch, or to mail (via business reply card, if applicable). Giving multiple options will boost your overall response rate. You’ll also be able to trend response rates by channel to give operations estimates to help with work flow and fulfillment.
4. Rule of three.
It takes at least three “touches” to get noticed. Develop a series of communication efforts that build upon each other. Your communication can be repetitive. We want your prospects and customers to recognize each piece as something they may have seen before. Don’t be too quick to write off your success on only one direct mail piece. Send another piece as a follow-up (tweak it if you need to), and trend the response of each effort in your series.
5. Implement an A/B test for every mailing. But, test only one variable.
Before you take all 5,000 names on your list and send out the same old postcard, always test something as a way to continually improve your response rates. That’s where the “A/B” comes in. Take half of your list (2,500 in this example) and code those “A”. The other half is coded “B”. If you have a control (a mail piece you’ve used over and over or one that has performed well), start there. Your control group (the “A” group of records) will get that piece. Now you can make tweaks to fine-tune your control. This is your “test.” There are several variables you can test. However, don’t throw in too many variables; it will make it impossible to determine what variable may have increased or decreased the performance (response rate, sales, etc.) of your mailer. Start with your control and test any of the following (you may be surprised at just how wildly different your response may be by only changing the predominant color of a mailer from blue to red):
- Creative/Design: color, images, call outs, font choice
- Offer: discounts, free items, or wording of the offer “half off” or “buy one get one free”
- Copy: headlines, sub-headlines, or entire copy focus (emotional versus fact)
- Format: letters, self-mailers, die-cut, postcards, window envelope versus no window
- Timing: time of month to drop communication or the number of efforts/communication pieces mailed
- List: for prospect mailers, purchase from two sources and test the response rate from each
6. Copy is king.
Your designer may cringe, but in the world of direct mail, the copy takes center stage. Writing and designing for brand and awareness communication are completely different than copy and design for direct mail. Copy shouldn’t be overly flowery or clever; rather, it should be to the point. When writing, be sensitive to the use of “we” and think about re-phrasing into “you” sentence structure. This will help emphasize the benefits for the recipient versus touting what you (as a business) can do or offer. Use short snippets of copy rather than run-on sentences. Write around the offer and call to action.
7. Talk to your customers differently than your prospects.
There’s nothing worse than getting communication from a company or organization that makes you think, “don’t these people realize that I’m already a customer of theirs??!” Make sure you create a copy version that speaks to your customers versus how you would speak to prospects. Simple copy statements like, “As a valued customer…” or “As a member, you already enjoy…” can reinforce that you know your customers.
This is extremely important when you are communicating to your customers and those individuals for whom you have information beyond name and address. When you don’t have more than a name and address (if you’ve rented a list, this may be all the information you have), try creating a campaign with a database-building component. You can use the information you collect on your next (personalized) campaign. Personalized campaigns incorporate the data collected (for example, birth date, gender, previous purchases, life events, etc.) to make the communication more relevant. A “personalized” campaign or communication is NOT just simply using only the person’s name or slapping a personalized URL (PURL) on a mail piece. A PURL is used to make the online experience just as personalized and relevant as the printed piece. Personalized campaigns have also proven to generate higher than average response rates across all industries.
9. Clean your list(s).
It’s tempting (mainly because there is little effort involved) to just export your customers and prospects from the beginning of time for your next direct mail piece, but that could be worse than not mailing at all. Your list finally reached quadruple digits, so you should be getting more leads and more sales from your mailing efforts, right? Wrong. Your list has been growing for more than five years. People move (NCOA-National Change of Address), register on the do not mail/do not call lists (DNC/DNM), and pass away (Deceased file). Some are even committed to prison (Prison file). Use the lists just mentioned to suppress against your customer list and/or rented list. Quantity of records is not as important as the quality of records. You not only waste the printing cost, but also the postage cost if you mail with a “dirty” list.
10. Make it measurable.
How will you undoubtedly KNOW if your mailing efforts “worked”? Besides a gut feeling that the phone rang more, you had more traffic to your store, or had a spike in sales, how do you really know that it was due to your mail piece? Next time use a vanity URL (www. companypromohere.com), a specific 800 number, and/or a coupon code to track the activity directly from your direct mail efforts. By tracking the response from all response channels, you’ll be able to calculate the response rate, cost per lead, and cost per sale.
11. When necessary, call in the experts.
When in doubt, call in the experts. If you’re not sure where to start on your direct mail efforts, need a nudge in the right direction, or are looking for reassurance that you are indeed on the right track, there are a number of blogs dedicated to direct mail. Check out Direct Creative Blog and TMR Direct. And of course, our team at Flint Communications would welcome the opportunity to help you.
By following these 11 “musts”, you’ll soon be on your way to direct mail success. Good luck!
Andrea Morrow is the Direct Marketing Strategist for Flint Communications. Flint Communications is a full service marketing communications firm dedicated to building brands, business and relationships.