Direct mail is a marketing technique in which the seller sends marketing messages directly to the buyer. Unlike other forms of marketing communications, such as TV advertising or placing articles in newspapers through media relations, with direct mail you don't have another medium carrying your message for you. With direct mail, you have total control over the presentation of your message.
Direct mail is a unique blend of advertising and sales. While good advertising should certainly lead to sales, direct mail allows you to present the product or service, make an offer and try to close the sale - all at once!
What's in a Name?
Direct mail is sometimes referred to as direct marketing or direct response marketing. There are, however, some subtle differences between the three. You might think of direct mail and direct response marketing as a subset of direct marketing. Direct marketing, then, is the broadest of the three terms.
Direct mail is, as the term implies, a marketing message that's delivered to prospects by mail. Direct response is direct mail that requests a response from the recipient through the mail.
Direct marketing encompasses more than marketing messages going through the mail. The nature of your business might lend itself to allow direct delivery of promotional items, free samples or other marketing messages to prospects. Some examples of direct marketing activities are listed below.
- Flyers for lawn services that are distributed door-to-door.
- Free shampoo sample included in the Sunday newspaper.
- Cookies or flowers delivered by a caterer or florist to a party planning service.
- Exhibiting at trade shows or events.
- Offering seminars on professional services.
- Offering product demonstrations.
Uses for Direct Mail
In addition to the simple goal of creating sales by offering products through the mail, direct mail is a tactic used for other marketing goals.
- Expose your product to a larger geographic market. You might also use direct mail sales results as a way to test new markets for store locations.
- Obtain qualified leads for follow up. If your product or service is expensive, direct mail may be a cost-effective way to gather qualified prospects.
- Prepare prospects for telephone follow-up. Direct mail may introduce a prospect to your product and service, helping to make that "cold" sales call a little warmer.
Types of Direct Mail
- Catalogs or other product literature with ordering opportunities.
- Sales letters.
- Sales letters with brochures.
Mailing Lists Are Critical
Direct mail experts agree - your sales success with direct mail is directly related to the quality of your mailing list. The best product, the best offer and the most cleverly-written copy will be wasted if your direct mail is sent to the wrong people.
What makes a mailing list wrong?
- Too few qualified names. A list of 5,000 barely qualified names that yields one or two sales may make your cost of sale too high. You might be better off, for example, to spend the money on a more targeted mail list that has the potential to generate a higher percentage of sales. In the end, your per-sale cost might be lower.
- A mailing list purchased or developed without a clear understanding of your target market. The more specifically you can describe prospects, the more likely you are to find a list that's a good match.
- Timing of list development. If the target audience for your product is new car buyers, a list of last year's car buyers won't do.
Tips on Developing Your Direct Mail Piece
- Focus on customer benefits and do it right away - in the lead. The first sentence (the
lead) in a direct mail letter should be about benefits. So, if your prospect only reads enough
of the offer to determine whether to keep reading or to toss it, thee should already be offered
the benefits of your product or service.
An example of focusing on customer benefits: "Put a smile on her face that only flowers can bring. Call Pennington's to place your Mother's Day order before May 7, and we'll give you an extra 10 percent off."
An example of not focusing on customer benefits: "Pennington's Floral Shoppe has received many awards for its floral designs. Let us create an award-winning design for you."
- Keep the offer simple, easy to understand and persuasive.
- Include a "call to action."
- Ask the customer to "call today."
- Include a postage-paid reply card.
- Make the offer for a limited time to encourage prospects to act.
- Make it easy to respond or place an order. Include order forms if appropriate for your
product. Include a:
- toll-free phone number (24-hour ordering if possible)
- fax numbers
- email addresses
- payment options such as:
- credit cards
- payment plans for big ticket items
- Use a personal and friendly writing style. Mail is a one-to-one communication; make it sound that way.
- Create different direct mail pieces to address different audiences - even when you're offering the same product. Your product or service may have a different benefit for the 35-year-old mother of two small children than it does to a single man of 25. So, create multiple forms of the same offer for those different audiences.
- Consider making your mailing "3D" by including an object in the envelope that will peak the recipient's curiosity.
What's the measure of success for direct mail? Many business owners look at the number of sales made compared to the number of items mailed. Many direct mail experts tell clients to expect between .05 percent and one percent response or sales rate. So, a one percent sales rate on 1,000 direct mail pieces equals10 responses or sales. If your cost to prepare and mail 1,000 pieces exceeds the profits you'd realize from 10 sales, go to another plan.
But, don't fall into the trap of simply increasing the number of items mailed to increase your sales rate. Remember, the quality of your list is paramount.
Direct Mail Advantages
- Allows you to target your message to a very specific audience. Pick one street of houses or all residents of a city. Target college freshmen or just college freshmen at one college who own a car. Mail to all your customers or just to those who spend an average of $25 per visit to your store. The possibilities are as endless as your mailing list's accuracy allows.
- This is a relatively expensive medium. However, if you are able to focus on only high-probability purchasers, cost effectiveness can be good.
- Direct mail messages can be personalized to add reader appeal.
- You can evaluate its effectiveness. If you compare the number of responses to the number of pieces mailed, you can calculate the response rate. If you include coded coupons or response cards you can keep track of exactly who responded and from where.
- Mail readers are actively involved. People read their mail when they choose. So, for at least second or two, your message will have their undivided attention while they open and scan it.
Direct Mail Disadvantages
- Many people don't like unsolicited offers and many are skeptical of their validity.
- Increasingly, busy people don't even open what they view as "junk mail."
- Using this method of advertising requires thorough maintenance of mail lists. Many advertisers don't like to bother with updating mail lists. With outdated lists, however, mail goes to undeliverable addresses and wastes your money. Another possible glitch - an inaccurate list may misspell names or address a person who has died. These kinds of errors annoy, or worse yet offend, the recipient.
- Some groups are concerned about the environmental impact of resources used for advertising mailings.