Dollar for Dollar, Direct Mail Responds

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By Steven Spatz – Disc Makers Vice President, Marketing

If you had the budget for only one marketing campaign, how would you spend it? On your website? An email campaign? Direct mail? Advertising? If you answered website or email, I recommend you look past your computer. In fact, look outside at your mailbox.

That’s right: dollar for dollar, direct mail is still the best marketing channel around. Yes, even better than the internet.

Sure, mailing is about as old school marketing as you can get. And it’s often forgotten when the marketing buzz turns to topics like Web 2.0, PPC (Pay Per Click), and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). But you must take into consideration that having a website is just one step. Businesses have to lure customers to their place on the world wide web, a passive approach that takes time and resources.

On the other hand, putting your message in the mail gives you all the control. You seek out your prospects and customers based on demographic criteria and literally thrust your information into their hands. There’s a reason why they call it “direct marketing!”

In an ideal world with large budgets, direct mail would be just one component of your marketing mix, with all your marketing efforts working in harmony to promote your products and services. So why does direct marketing stand out above the others? There are many reasons, and here are a few.

Mailing is affordable. Even after the biggest postage increase in 25 years, business mail remains the largest component of the United States Postal Service’s (USPS) mail stream, with over 104 billion pieces delivered in 2006. Using less expensive Standard Mail or Post Card rate services, mailers can still deliver a powerful and complete message at a fraction of the cost of print, outdoor, or broadcast advertising.

Mailing is scalable. How many new customers can you handle? You can control, with reasonable accuracy, the number of leads or customers you generate by the amount you mail. Over time, astute mailers can pinpoint response rates and make precise plans for handling phone calls and other responses.

Mailing is measurable. Including unique source codes and/or phone numbers on each mailing piece and collecting information when responses or phone calls come in is basic smart marketing. This enables you to test different mailing lists or segments, determine what message and creative is and isn’t resonating, and expand on positive results in future mailings.

Most important of all, mailings are targeted. Your message is delivered only to the range of customers and prospects you choose. Aim as wide as a shotgun, or as precise as a sniper’s rifle. Mail to prospects or clients from your own database, or choose from the millions of names available through list brokers – which generally cost between 10 and 25 cents per name.

Whether you’re mailing a million pieces a day like Victoria’s Secret or just a few dozen per day like the pizza shop on the corner, every mailing campaign revolves around a few key elements.

The mailing piece
What format will you use? There&rlsquo;s no one right or wrong answer, and your choices are expansive. A few common formats include:

  • Postcards. Probably the most cost effective from a production and postage perspective, though you’re limited on space.
  • Catalogs – or ‘flats’ as their known by the USPS. This is the traditional format for a great many mailers, but can be quite an expensive proposition.
  • Letters. We have a saying around here that goes: The only people who read long letters are buyers!

The Offer
One of the key benefits of direct mail is that it’s appropriate for so many different situations, from event announcements, to discounts and sales, all the way to offering a free product or service. Just make sure your piece is focused on one or two key messages so it’s clear and focused.

The Response Vehicle
If you are looking to elicit (and measure) a response to your direct mail efforts, you need to include a response vehicle. Simply put, this is a way for your prospect to respond. It might be a call to visit your website, call your 800 number, or reply via a business reply card (BRC). You can staple these into a catalog or brochure, stick them in an envelope mailing, or include them as part of a large double-sided postcard, perforated into the postcard itself.

The Call to Action
Every good marketing piece needs a strong call to action. This is, quite literally, directions to your prospect or customers telling them how you’d like to them to act. What do they need to do next? Spell it out for them.

“Visit our website at to register for your discount.”
“Call us toll free at 1-800-555-8000 to get this limited time offer.”
“Send back this business reply card to get your free sample.”

Your customers are waiting for you to tell them what to do, and you need to be as specific as possible.

The mailing list
You can create a great mailing piece, have a killer offer, make a strong call to action, and still have disappointing results. Why? Because you sent it to the wrong list. Choosing your target list is the single most important component of a direct mail campaign.

If you have already assembled your own address book of names, bravo! These will be your best responding prospects – guaranteed. They already know who you are, and your communication will be welcome. You almost cannot mail them too often.

If you don’t have your own database, your job is a little tougher. It may take some testing before you find the right audience for your message, and it’s best to consult a professional mailing list broker to help you select the right names. They’ll have literally millions of names at their fingertips, sorted and segmented in as many ways as you can dream up. If you want to target left handed golfers in Des Moines under the age of 53… they can find you those names!

Your mailing options
Before you hand your pieces over to the USPS, you need to plan carefully. Postage is where the majority of your marketing dollars will be spent in a direct mail campaign. You can spend as little as 26 cents on a small postcard, and it goes up from there. The new postage rates are calculated mostly on the shape and weight of the piece. Sometimes the piece itself dictates how you send the mail. For instance, postcards go at postcard rates (obviously), and are still a good value.

But for many other pieces, there are other considerations. Do you want to send it First Class (expensive but fast) or Standard Mail (cheaper, but slower and more complicated)?

The other important factor involves the addresses themselves. If you’re mailing them all to one zip code, the price will be lower with volume discounts. Here’s where you should consult a professional mailing house for help. They’ll prepare your list to help you qualify for the maximum discounts.

Don’t forget to measure!
Direct mail is more than just an advertising or promotional assignment. It serves as a customer survey and research project at the same time. By applying some kind of tracking information – key codes, different telephone numbers, unique URLs – gathering it at the time your prospect/client responds, and then analyzing it on the back end, you’re learning a lot about your business.

Just think of the questions you can answer. Which list works best? Which segment of lists respond better? Does a letter format work better than a postcard? Does the “Free Product” offer work better than the “25% off discount” offer? And so on.

The number of tests you can construct and track are endless. Then you can use the results you‘ve gained into your next mailing campaign. Over time you’ll have an established mail program that will yield powerful – and predictable – results.

12 thoughts on “Dollar for Dollar, Direct Mail Responds

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    1. Hey, Marc. Well, sure. In a perfect world all our channels are working in tandem, so depending on the piece, it drives the recipient to some call to action. Often it’s a catalog request, which can happen online or via a reply postcard — but there is always some sort of offer or action required, and that usually happens on the DM website. And we do a good amount of catalog mailings, which is certainly also a direct mail piece. Hope that answers the question. Andre (Email Marketing Manager for Disc Makers)

  5. How well does the direct mail marketing approach work with the music business? If I want to book holiday parties for the band, offer discount coupons for merchandise at shows, or direct order CD’s, is this still a valid marketing tool? Assuming I don’t want to buy a mailing list of 5000 of my neighbors, would I be able to get a more targeted mailing list?

    1. You can certainly get targeted lists that fit almost any demographic. It’s an expensive proposition, but mailing a CD sampler might be a way to entice your own list to buy a full CD. But arguing the benefits of that over an email campaign is real tough. Unless you happen to have a large snail mail list and few email addresses. And for booking gigs, this is also a tough model to employ. You’d have to be sending something more elaborate than a post card. The model presented here is more for a business fielding prospects and clients on a state-wide or nationwide-wide scale. That’s the way Disc Makers was built. Direct mail was and is a mainstay for the way we get our message out. Andre (Email Marketing Manager for Disc Makers)

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