Direct Mail: Still a Bargain for Marketers

Posted on by Beth Negus Viveiros

My youngest daughter Emma loves to read a particular author. She wanted to contact the author and asked me to get her the writer’s email address. I told her that getting it would be unlikely. But, she could write her a letter.

When complete, my wife told her she’d mail it. As the author lived clear on the other side of the United States, my daughter exclaimed it would cost too much money to send it that far distance. My wife informed her it would be less than 50 cents. My daughter could not believe it.

Therein lays the forgotten power of the USPS and direct mail as an advertising medium: It is quite the bargain.

Today, many advertising and marketing professional’s recall that direct mail’s results still boil down to:

  • Lists and data
  • Offers/messaging
  • Creative and copy
  • Timing

What You Need to Test

Most marketer’s skip the big, critical first two points, which account for 70% to 80% of your campaign’s success,  and jump right into new creative, thinking that their “killer creative” will wow the heck out of everyone that comes into contact with their package . They are convinced the BIG Idea will win the day. They would be incorrect.

Great direct mail is about understanding your segments and varying your offers/messaging so that it resonates uniquely with each of your targeted groups. It’s the offers and messaging to the right audience at the right time, which creates relevance and gets them to take action now.

Most of your testing should be done with your lists, then your offers/messaging. Creative, while important, typically has less of an impact on results than your data and the reasons why a prospect or customer should respond to your solicitation.

When you do get around to testing creative, start first with different copy, not new layouts. Direct mail is a copy driven medium.  It’s the words on the paper that compel us to respond. 

After you are confident in your copy tests, move to different design, new formats and testing your media mix in a multi-channel campaign. Packages usually outperform self-mailers, but when you get to this point in your testing plan, try different formats. You may be surprised as to what works and what does not.

Timing and Seasonality

Throughout the years, one of the biggest factors in direct mail that gets overlooked is the timing. If you sent me three emails last week, or try to sell me a snow shovel in August, the chances of your success diminish greatly. Review your seasonality by reviewing past results, make sure you have a firm grasp on all your marketing touches and time them accordingly so you do not overwhelm or annoy your customer or prospects.

Consider how and how often you reach out to your target markets. Include customer service contacts, email, email newsletters, printed newsletters, dealer/representative contacts and store visits (them visiting you) and social media outreach when you think about timing and the frequency of your communication.

With the rise of social media, many marketers think that direct mail is not needed. While social media is great at engagement, it’s horrible at consummating the marriage. Direct mail can help close that loop and give your ROI a huge boost.

The days of mass mailings are over, thank goodness. Is it time to rethink how targeted, affordable and testable direct mail can be reworked to add more value to your measurable marketing campaigns?

Go back to the basics and your success may amaze you.

Grant A. Johnson (grant.johnson@johnsondirect.com) is the founder and Ambassador of Fun at Brookfield, WI based Johnson Direct LLC.

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