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Direct Mail That Works

Over the last few years, the growth of online marketing campaigns - especially email marketing - have pushed more traditional off-line marketing efforts to the background. While there are significant cost and immediacy advantages to online marketing campaigns, organizations can greatly benefit from keeping direct mail in their marketing program mix. In fact, the Direct Marketing Organization notes interesting synergy between online and off-line efforts. According to their Fifth Annual E-Commerce Survey, the DMA discovered that direct mail is slightly more effective at driving web site traffic than email marketing.

Know Your Customer

Potential customers travel through multiple phases in any purchasing process. Depending on which marketing textbook you read, these have different names but can be boiled down to: Awareness -> Knowledge -> Preference -> Purchase

Different parts of the communication and selling cycle target each of these phases. The beauty of a good direct mail campaign is that it can raise awareness, provide knowledge and build the foundation for a product preference. Tall order, but possible.

As with any marketing program, to begin an effective direct mail campaign, you need to understand your target customer:

  • Who are they?
  • What problems are they trying to solve?
  • How are they solving them today?
  • How does your offering help them?
  • How can you get to them?
  • The last question bears some discussion. If your buyer is a senior decision-maker, such as a vice president or C-level manager (CEO, CIO, CTO, or CMO), chances are good that they are bombarded with companies trying to sell their product or service. They most likely have an administrative assistant who acts as a gatekeeper for people trying to reach the executive. For any campaign to be effective, not only do you need to ensure your message is compelling to the target audience, but you must also figure out a way to get the information into their hands.

    Don't Be Afraid To Think Big

    When your target is a VP or C-level manager, you need to think high impact direct mail. Sending a letter, brochure or even a catalog will not get much – if any – attention from your intended audience. In fact, these low impact forms of direct mail may not even make it past the gatekeeper.

    The answer? Think BIG.

    The first lesson in high impact direct mail is that that it needs to be an eye-catching, multi-dimensional package to make an initial impression with the recipient. Have you ever received a box in the mail? You opened it, didn’t you?

    Thinking big doesn’t stop with the packaging, however. You need to carry this thinking into the contents. Here is your opportunity to provide the information about how your product or service helps to solve their problems. Think about how can you creatively make an even bigger impact with the contents.

    There are many examples of creative direct mail pieces that have been sent over the years. One example is a boxing glove sent from a company who fought waste in the supply chain. Another very successful direct mail campaign was from an outsourcing company that sent prospects a copy of Geoffrey Moore’s book "Living on the Fault Line". In this book, Moore recommends that organizations focus on core competencies and outsource those things that are not core. The prospect received something of real value that also delivered the sending company’s message. This was a great example of a direct mail piece that raised awareness, provided the prospect with knowledge, and started the prospect down the path of selecting a preferred supplier.

    Some Do's and Don'ts

  • Do use this as a chance to keep your brand in front of your prospect. Something professional that will sit on a desk or table and carries your brand can have long lasting impact.
  • Do not send a cheap trade show giveaway. A pen or yo-yo does not make it very far with this crowd.
  • Do think about how your contents will look upon arrival. The broken jar of chutney a colleague once received left quite an impression - but it certainly wasn’t a good impression!
  • Do not just send along a company white paper. A white paper written by a third party is slightly better, but most people do not view these as unbiased. If you are going through the effort of putting together a high impact piece, do not take the easy way out by only sending low or medium impact pieces like white papers. Keep the white papers for your on-line campaigns since they encourage people to register on your Web site.
  • Do keep your target prospect firmly in mind. One campaign that was not a success sent one half of an item to their prospect and offered to bring the other half when the prospect agreed to a sales call. Not only was that idea considered an insult to many senior executives, but it left the company with a useless inventory of half a giveaway.
  • Making a List and Checking It Twice

    The key to running a high impact direct mail campaign is to fine-tune your target prospect list. Since the cost per piece will be higher, in order to control costs, you will need to run a lower volume campaign. Rather than buy a mailing list, create your own list of target companies and executives within those companies. Sources such as Hoover's Online, along with your own prospect database and web site registrations, often provide all the prospect information you need.

    Spend the time up front to make sure your list is accurate. No sense mailing your high impact piece to the wrong person. Time and money spent here goes a long way in cutting costs. If you do not have the resources to do this work in house, consider outsourcing this effort. The costs saved may offset the cost of outsourcing. And, you may get a higher hit rate on your campaign.

    Know Thyself

    High impact direct mail campaigns take resources, both in terms of people and budget. While you do not need to break the bank on such a campaign, your per item cost may range from $10 to $100, depending on the quality of packaging and giveaway. Products that are low cost and high volume cannot justify the expense of a high impact campaign. Furthermore, unless you are willing to spend the resources to follow up on the mailing, save your money. The right piece sent to the right prospect will go a long way to raising awareness, providing knowledge, and opening the door – but it won’t take the order!

    A Message From the Department of Redundancy Department

    Your direct mail campaign should not be a one shot deal. This program should be one component in your integrated marketing plan, with consistent messages throughout. Your web site – regardless of whether a prospect came into a specific promotional page OR went directly to the home page, should weave in elements of the campaign. Consider integrating a seminar into your campaign or incorporating elements of the campaign into your next trade show.

    The most cleaver direct mail campaign that looks to be disconnected from other marketing messages and programs may attract initial interest, but will eventually lose its impact. A message repeated many times using a variety of media, will have a greater impact than any one single impression.

    Track, Track, Track

    The only way to measure any direct marketing campaign is to ensure that you agree up front on the metrics (e.g. leads, qualified leads, closed deals) and diligently track against those metrics. Start by making sure your sales force automation (SFA) system is set up to track the campaign. Agree up front to where you will credit leads that come from this campaign. This is especially important if some of the prospects for this campaign are already in your prospect database. Will this campaign get credit for the lead or will the campaign that ran previously be credited? Either answer is OK – but this is a discussion you need to have before the campaign starts not part way through.

    While these are all necessary for any campaign, if you are going to spend budget and people resources on a high impact direct mail program, you need to ensure that you track both your successes and your failures. Diligently tracking enables you to continuously improve your process and gives you the information you need to make smart business decisions next time you look to integrate direct mail into your marketing mix.

    Bob Rentsch is a marketing consultant at Vista Consulting LLC ( ) and brings over 20 years of experience managing marketing and development organizations. Bob’s background includes extensive experience in strategy development, marketing communications, sales support, direct marketing, advertising and media relations for a wide variety of companies. In addition to his consulting work, Bob is an adjunct faculty member at Quinsigamond Community College and devotes time to youth sports as well as other volunteer activities in the Worcester, MA area.

    Read other articles in this issue:

    Direct Mail That Works
    Dare to be Different
    The "R" Word

    Newsletter Overview

    June 4, 2020

    Direct Marketing Tips

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