Getting results from direct mail Featured

9:56am EDT July 22, 2002

Now that Internet shopping is here, is direct mail marketing dead? Not by a long shot.

Businesses make billions of dollars each year delivering their messages through the mail. But they also spent a lot of money; most companies are happy with a 3 percent response rate from direct mail efforts.

You can do better. It’s not unheard of for well-designed campaigns to get response rates as high as 40 percent.

The goal of your direct mail campaign should be to reach the right person, get him or her to open the envelope, read the message, then take action. Some rules are obvious.

Recipients should feel the appeal is personal. Names and titles should be correct. Ideally, your letter should address each recipient by name. Recognizing that’s not always possible, salutations such as Dear Neighbor, Colleague, Customer, etc. also work well.

For small mailings, use commemorative postage stamps rather than metered bulk mail; many potential customers toss out third-class mail. Consider hand addressing envelopes or using a printer font that imitates handwriting.

If your mailing is large, and first-class postage isn’t an option, the envelope can mean the difference between whether your letter is read or sent to the round file. Words like “free, save, gift enclosed” or “important dated message” — with fancy graphics, cartoons and photographs on the envelope — entice the receiver to open it.

Maximizing success depends first upon the list you use, second, the offers you make, and third, the copy and graphics you create.

Lists should match the niche you serve. The more specialized the list, the better. Lists can be bought, rented or created from past customers, telephone directories, newspapers, club members, etc.

People take advantage of an offer to gain benefits. The more benefits they perceive, the more likely they are to buy. Your copy should catch their attention. It should promise your most important benefit in your headline or first paragraph, be complete, concise and easy to read. It also needs to be energetic and enthusiastic, with testimonials, guarantees and special offers that induce action.

Graphics communicate more quickly and more forcefully than words, but buy only what you can afford. Mailing pieces that are too professional can convey an impression of products that are too expensive.

Early in your letter, provide a reason the reader was chosen to receive your offer — past customer, member of club, attendee of trade show, etc. Hand sign your letters legibly. Follow-up letters and or phone calls can double response rates.

Successful nonprofit organizations use this method for donations. Multiple letters to the right list can increase your response rate. The offer should be quick and easy to respond to. Questionnaires should be kept to one page. Include 800 numbers and e-mail addresses. Reply envelopes increase responses to collection letters, questionnaires, donation requests and cash-with-order replies.

Offer a reward for those who respond. Be creative. You know your customers and your product. Nothing lets you reach your customers more personally and effectively than a well done direct mail program.

Charleen S. Jaeb is a professor of business administration at Cuyahoga Community College, and has advanced degrees in law, marketing and business administration.