Direct Results – Creating a successful direct mail campaign

Creating a successful direct mail campaign

The success of a direct mail campaign hinges on several key elements. Rather like a three legged stool, if just one of these elements fails you could end up flat on your back. Each leg of the stool, or element of the campaign, is as important as the other but without any one of them the whole project is doomed to inevitable failure.

On the other hand direct mail is a valuable activity which deserves a place in the promotional toolbox of every marketing professional. It is flexible, responsive and measurable. It can be used to keep existing customers or gain new ones as well. Unlike other promotional tools direct mail can be tested and refined, and possesses a unique ability to communicate effectively with both the masses and a single individual, all at the same time.

So much for the benefits of direct mail. What about the pitfalls? Returning to our analogy of a stool, the failure of just one key element can bring down a whole campaign.

The first of the legs of our stool concerns the audience for the mailing. There are several issues to consider on both a strategic and tactical level. Speaking broadly, who is the mailing targeting? For example will it be sent to new or existing customers, or a mixture of both. If the latter, will the mailing content change to acknowledge that some recipients may also deal with you? To treat everyone the same ignores much of the flexibility offered by direct mail and risks alienating loyal existing customers – the lifeblood of any business.

Perhaps more importantly, what is the quality of the data? It may seem pedantic but poor data quality and accuracy can invite a host of problems. Incorrect addressing looks unprofessional and wastes money. Mailings to the wrong contact name or decision maker usually end up in the bin. Even worse, consumer mailings to recipients who have recently passed away can cause distress and generate extremely negative publicity.

So if you are buying a list for the mailing, make sure it is from a reputable source, is deduped against your existing customer database and is thoroughly screened. If you are using internal data, don’t assume you are safe either. Most businesses rarely maintain their in house database to an accurate level so take advantage of data cleansing services.

As the second leg of our stool, think about what your recipients will receive. It is usually advisable to create a new mailer to send out which features a creative and eye-catching design, memorable and punchy copy, along with an easy to find response mechanism. Unfortunately some companies see direct mail as a means of using up old or out of date brochures and corporate literature, which is not only totally unsuitable for the task but says much about how highly they regard their potential new customers.

It is commonly accepted practice to include a well-written and succinct covering letter. It should contain lots of easy to read short sentences. Plus the occasional long one too. And don’t worry too much about the conventional laws of grammar. Just as long as it reads well and connects with the reader.

The language you use in the letter is important as well. Avoid lengthy and uninspiring talk and never use negative words such as ‘unfortunately, cannot, won’t or regrettably’. Address the reader directly and use plenty of uplifting positive language.

The final leg of our stool is based on when the mailing will be sent. Timing is everything and never more so than when planning a mailing. On a broader strategic level at what stage of the promotional campaign will the mailing take place? Will it capitalise on other awareness-raising tools such as advertising or public relations? Maybe the mailing could precede and support other activities like exhibiting at a trade fair or event.

On a tactical level, you could even consider on which day of the week the mailing should arrive with the target audience. For example many email marketing campaigns are broadcast midweek to get the best results, but home or leisure oriented mailings are better promoted on a Friday, just before the weekend.

So the moral of the story is that a three-legged stool that’s missing one of its legs rapidly assumes a new life – as firewood. And a direct mailshot that doesn’t have a good list, an effective mailer and the right timing, may just as well be used as kindling.

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