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Direct Mail Marketing: The Long Lost Marketing Method That Works Like Gangbusters

There is little doubt that we live in a digital age. The talk of the town is Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Many marketers and small business owners are clamouring to figure out how to make the most of these tools to grow their business.

Yet as they do, the excitement and the social pressure they face (“what, you don’t know about Pinterest!? OMG!”), these marketers often pass right over other marketing methods that can be much more profitable.

“Why would anyone do that?” You ask.

The answer is simple: Some marketing methods have simply ‘gone out of fashion’.

However, just because something has gone out of fashion and is no longer what the media talks about…doesn’t mean it isn’t effective.

Let’s Take a Look At Direct Mail Marketing.

A staple for many businesses, such as cable and mobile phone companies, realtors and electronic shops…direct mail marketing has lost favor with many small business owners.

Their attention is elsewhere.

A slew of continuous new digital marketing options have grabbed their attention. Like a chameleon that changes its color as it tries to adapt to its landscape, so too do marketers find themselves trying to quickly become experts in all the digital world has to offer.

And while digital marketing options provide many benefits such as low implementation costs and easy tracking capability…the majority of marketers find themselves jumping around from new tool to new tool because they don’t want to miss out.

Direct mail marketing must be out, because nobody is talking about it, right?

The Numbers Tell a Different Story…

Target Marketing magazine found that 29% of marketers are increasing their direct mail budgets in 2012.

The ROI of direct mail has increased year-on-year for the last decade according to the last OMD Brand Science report.

In the UK, the Royal Mail found that 21.9 million UK adults respond to direct mail marketing, 6.2 million went online to order something, and 7.3m went to a store to order something in person according to Central Mailing Services.

The US Postal Service wrote about an interesting campaign for their Flat Rate Boxes. If you’re living in North America, you may remember the famous “If it fits, it ships” tagline of this campaign. USPS invested heavily in TV, radio, online and direct mail. Guess where their biggest response came from? Direct mail! In fact, 35 percent of the total response came from this often neglected source., a marketing and creative jobsite in Canada recently sent out a direct mail letter to employers that generated a 10x return on their investment.

In an article titled Direct Mail: Alive and Kicking published in Forbes, it states that “the channel that delivered the strongest ROI for customer acquisition for B2C marketers was direct mail.”

Once you’ve decided you are ready to give direct mail marketing a go in your business, the next step is going to be sourcing a hot list and creating your direct mail piece.

Your Hot List

The list you send your direct mail piece to is more important than the mail piece itself. Gary Halbert, the legendary direct marketer and copywriter, was known for saying that the biggest advantage he would want going into a market “is a starving crowd.”

You see, if you’re marketing to a list that isn’t hot, which is to say, isn’t targeted, and that isn’t interested in what you have to offer…then even the best direct mail piece isn’t going to be of any help.

What I am saying to you here is that you need to create (or buy) a focused list of prospects that are the most likely to actually buy from you.

Consider several criteria that you need your list to meet.

For example, if you are in a B2B business, you would consider:

  • Location
  • Size of company
  • Public or private company
  • Industry
  • Number of employees
  • Buying cycle
  • Status of the business
  • Creditor information

Once you have found or built your list, you will then need to develop an effective direct mail piece.

Crafting Your Direct Mail Piece

There are countless books, articles, and reports written on the topic, however, let me share with you 5 keys to an effective direct mail piece for you to keep in mind.

Stand Out – The more your marketing piece stands out the better the chance that your prospect will open it. If they don’t, the message and offer inside will have gone to waste. Be creative with your direct mail marketing. Consider colored envelopes, courier shipping where a signature is required, bulky mail where you put an item in the package…all of these will help you get your piece noticed, opened and looked at.

Headline – By far the most critical part of a direct mail piece, or any marketing material for that matter (once someone is looking at it) is your headline. If your headline doesn’t grab their attention and suck them into reading the rest of your copy you’re gasping like a fish out of water. Spend time crafting a headline that offers benefits, creates surprise and intrigue, to draw them into reading more.

You, Not We – A classic mistake in copywriting is writing your marketing materials using the word “we” instead of “you”. The reader doesn’t care about you they care about themselves. Write as you’re talking directly to the reader, saying “you” throughout. It’s more personal, relevant, and creates a connection with the reader.

Offer and Call-to-action – Whatever your offer is, whether a free report, consultation, quote, and so on, be sure to make it compelling. The stronger your offer is, the more incentive you give the reader to contact you, the more likely they will be to do so. Consider using urgency and giving them a reason to get in touch with you right away.

Make It Easy – A big mistake newbies make is forgetting to make their contact information easy to find. You’ve gone all this way to get a reader to take action only to have your contact information buried somewhere no one can see it. What a shame. Ensure your contact information is clearly visible. And just as important, that when the reader does in fact contact you (whether online, by email or telephone) that you make the process for them smooth and simple.

So Get On The Band Wagon!

With your first direct mail materials at the ready here are a few more tips to help you get started with direct mail the right way.

Grow with Confidence

Before you make a great investment in a single direct mail piece, be sure to roll out it to a small group first. If the total market you have identified is 5000, start by mailing to 1000 people. Gauge the response and decide whether you are seeing enough potential in the mailing to roll it out to the other 4000 names. Doing this allows you to invest in your direct mail marketing with confidence. Not to mention save your money if you make a mistake!

Build Relationships

As with all good marketing, direct mail is all about building relationships with your market. Rather than hoping for a one-time winner of a mailing, take a long-term view and have confidence in knowing that many of the most effective campaigns are composed of multiple mailings to the same name. Instead of sending out one letter, put together a series. Doing this allows you to reach your target market over a longer period of time and if they are not ready to buy from you at first, they may be ready by the time they receive your third or fifth mailing. This will increase your response rate and profitability.

Educate Don’t Violate

One of my favorite tips and the last one I will leave you with is all about value. Specifically, the more value you offer to your prospective clients at every interaction, the more they will see you as an authority. And one of the best and most effective ways to provide value is by educating. Consider adding a case study, newsletter, white paper or other educational piece (or pieces) to your direct mail campaign. When you do this, your prospects will actually look forward to getting your mail and opening it…as opposed to joining their sad sisters and brothers (who were all about the quick sale!) in the recycling bin.

Knowing about all the newest options that exist to market your business is a good thing. However, I suggest you resist the urge to master all them at once and instead considering which marketing strategies will truly deliver the highest return on your investment. Direct mail marketing is often one of them that, when done effectively, is proven to build businesses. Why not try it for yours?

About Michael Zipursky

Michael Zipursky is a direct-marketing consultant and co-founder of Business Consulting Buzz, a leading resource and website on becoming a consultant. He is also the author of several books on marketing and consulting, including the Consulting Success System, Masters of Consulting Interviews and Profitable Relations.

11 thoughts on “Direct Mail Marketing: The Long Lost Marketing Method That Works Like Gangbusters

  1. Michael,

    One of the biggest (and often overlooked) benefits of direct mail is that it doesn’t change much over time. Once you get a winning campaign you can generally roll it to a larger and larger audience with predictable ROI …sometimes for years with little to no changes…unaffected by Panda, Penguin, Timeline or any of the other seemingly weekly changes that throw the online marketing world into chaos.

    Great article as usual!

    • Steve – thanks, glad you enjoyed the article. Very true. The foundation of all direct marketing is really about rolling out as small a test as possible to get valid data that you can use to prove whether the campaign will deliver a strong ROI. Once you find that fit things turn golden and, as you said, allow you to roll out to bigger and bigger ‘lists’.

      PS. Like your point on Panda/Penguin and all those other cute animals 🙂

  2. Great article Michael (just bought the consulting pricing ebook from your site a couple of weeks ago btw, great stuff).

    In one of my physical businesses, direct, physical mail always deliver great ROI, especially when we’re only targeting our existing, high-spending customers. The amount of direct sales and their referrals is pretty amazing when we include a couple of ‘invite cards’ in the mail wherein their referral gets a special offer not available elsewhere, simply because they were referred by our most valued clients.

    Since they’re our high-paying clients, they often share those referral cards to other relatively the same level of income friends…

    Going against the flow these days tend to be going back to basics as there are so many marketers going after the next shiny thing.

    Thanks for the article.

    Dave Tong

    • David – thanks for sharing that example and that’s great to hear you are making DM work in your business. It sounds like you’ve worked out a system and process that consistently generates a positive ROI. Nice one!

      PS. Appreciate the support of our consulting book and glad to hear you found it helpful.

  3. Great reminder Michael as over the last 3 years DM has had the greatest return on our investment as we can specifically design the mailer to the audience its sent to. Don’t know why we always go back and spend more time on our PPC & SEO when the lowest hanging fruit has been DM. 80/20! Thanks for the reminder!

    • Mike – right on! That’s an important question to ask. You can keep your DM going as your main lead/sales generator. Your PPC and SEO can and should support your overall marketing plan. When a prospect gets your DM, and then sees you coming up for relevant searches online, it reinforces your positioning in the marketplace.

  4. A principal reason marketers are going back to direct mail is to cut through the clutter in email boxes. I would venture most are not expecting the recipient to fill in the pull-out forms and send in a check. The brochure allows them to browse through the offerings and then go to their computers to order online. So direct mail has a new function – to drive people to the internet.

    • Jeannette – thanks for the comment and you are right that many marketers are using DM specifically for that purpose. In fact, many DM pieces we’ve been successful with use a specific call to action pointing to an online or email reply format.

  5. Well said, Michael!

    For me, the best way to market yourself is to mix online marketing efforts with traditional marketing efforts like direct mail, if you have the budget for it. Even though the Internet has changed the way that we do business, there are still potential customers and clients that are more willing to trust offers sent to them through the mail rather than receiving them in their e-mail inbox.

  6. Pingback: 124 Not-So-Boring Marketing Ideas for Small Business from Really Smart Bloggers | Direct Marketing Blog

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