8 Steps to a Successful Direct-Mail Campaign
mass advertising, which creates awareness and casts
a wide net, direct mail gives you pinpoint targeting ability and
(if your campaign is effective) generates
an immediate, tangible reaction on the part
of the recipient.
Direct mail, for those
of you without mailboxes, is unsolicited advertising or promotional
material sent to an individual through the mail. Unlike mass
advertising, which creates awareness and casts a wide net, direct mail
gives you pinpoint targeting ability and (if your campaign is
effective) generates an immediate, tangible reaction on the part of the
recipient—complete and mail a reply card, call an 800 number, visit a
website, or (better yet) buy the product or service the mailing
The use of direct mail
gives you the opportunity to deliver a powerful, personal message to
your customers and prospects. What's more, its success is measurable. A
stack of reply cards or a pile of credit-card orders are proof of a
So, what makes a mailing
work? Ask a variety of direct-mail experts and you'll get a variety of
answers. In general, however, a successful direct-mail campaign follows
these eight basic steps.
Your direct-mail package should
not be written or designed until a strategy has been determined. What
makes a strategy effective? Agreement on a clearly defined audience
(your mailing list), the objective of your campaign (to find new
customers? win back old customers? update existing customers on a new
product or sevice?), an understanding of your product or service, a
knowledge of the marketplace (what your targeted audience needs and
wants), your key message, your offer, your call to action, and your
2. The List
Lists, quite simply, make or
break a direct-mail campaign. According to NetReal.com, "The best offer
in the world—if
not targeted to the right audience—will fail." The most common
mistake is to spend too little time and effort upfront when selecting—and testing—lists.
There are three major categories of lists: compiled lists, which are
gathered from directories, phone books, credit files, and other
sources; direct response lists, which are made up of individuals who
have responded to direct mail in the past; and in-house lists, which
are the names of customers your company has already done business with.
For best results, find lists that include people who recently bought
something similar to your product or service, and in your price range.
Be sure to test a number of mailing lists on a small scale. Once you've
found an effective list, you can then roll out your full direct-mail
3. The Creative
Employ a concept that
convinces your prospect to open the envelope, read the contents of your
package, and take action.
Use teasers, headlines, and visuals. Use benefit-driven copy and kick
the letter off with a powerful, compelling sentence or short paragraph.
For consumer mailings, your approach can be as colorful or promotional
as you like, as long as it's suitable for your audience. When writing
to professionals, high-level executives, or the wealthy, however,
conventional wisdom dictates a more subdued approach.
4. The Offer
An offer is your special
deal, or what the reader gets when he responds to your mailing.
NetReal.com reports that "the second most influential factor in
determining the success of a direct-mail campaign is the offer."
Successful direct-mail packages sell the offer, not the product or
Make your offer hard to resist, free of risk, and—if possible—free of charge. Offers
should tie into the product or service you provide, as well as the
theme of your direct-mail piece. Mention your offer both early and
often. And put a time limit on your offer, when possible, to get the
reader to take immediate action.
5. Features vs. Benefits
One of the rules of
direct marketing is to "stress benefits, not features." That is,
instead of describing the merits of your product or service, tell the
reader how your product or service will benefit him.
But in B2B marketing, features often deserve equal (if not more) time.
Engineering and scientific marketplaces typically don't respond to
benefit-oriented copy. Therefore, an effective mailing in such a
marketplace would provide specs, not broad-based advertising claims.
6. Ask for the Sale
Despite an intriguing
envelope teaser, a compelling offer, and a well-written package, if you
forget to ask for the sale, your entire campaign could bomb. Be sure to
build in a strong call to action, which stresses the main benefits,
restates the offer (and how taking advantage of this offer will benefit
the reader), explains how to respond (providing as many response
mechanisms—reply card, phone, email, and
includes any response deadlines.
7. The Follow-Up
Hot leads soon turn
cold, so follow up quickly. Don't put 100% of your effort
into a lead-generating campaign and 0% into the follow-up. Your
follow-up process must build on the initial interest your mailing
8. Remain Visible
Once you have their attention,
keep it. Mail to your list of prospects and customers often, and make
sure your mailings will be of value to them.
"If your sales process involves a long lead time, it's a smart move to
plan and budget for a series of mailings to the decision maker and key
decision influencers," MarketingProfs.com reports. Of if your product
or service is less complex, you might consider mailing the same piece—to the same list—over and over.
According to MarketingProfs.com, "If your sales letter or direct-mail
package is generating an acceptable number of orders or leads, don't
hesitate to mail it again and again .... The average person is exposed
to well over 500 sales, marketing, and advertising messages every day."
How can you be sure that your mailing even registered on their radar
Furthermore, things change. Decision makers come and go, and companies
that once had no use for your product or service might now need it very
A note of caution, however: Should you decide to use repeated mailings,
make sure you don't mail too frequently. As with most aspects of direct
mail, testing is the best way to determine the optimum approach.
Sources: Wilson Zehr, "When to Test Direct-Mail Pieces," NetReal.com,
March 14, 2006.
Ernest Nicastro, "How
to Win Over the Man in the Chair: Salesmanship,
Repetition, and Direct Mail," MarketingProfs.com, March 22, 2005.
M.L. Hartman and Matthew W. Staudt,
"Three Key Ingredients to Effective Direct Mail,"
MarketingProfs.com, January 24, 2006.