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What's Working Now in Direct Mail

Date: August, 2009 --

In these times it is enticing to think about moving all your marketing budget on-line and pay for clicks that may or may not be legitimate enquiries. Admittedly, Forrester reports that within the CMO population it surveyed, direct mail budgets were cut by 52% of them, and 67% of them cut TV, print, radio and magazine budgets. That online and email budgets were increased by 40% and 38% of them respectively are seductive factoids, but note that 27% of them reduced online budgets also. Remember also that those online and email budgets are starting from low absolute values, so any reallocation will look like a large percentage. And let's face it, the USPS with its rate increases hasn't helped.

Is it really appealing to think about investing in complex e-mail strategies and tools that require retraining your copywriters and marketing analysts? Are your prospects and current customers really there? All of that risks losing what you have. What you have is a successful business built on effective direct mail programs. Why abandon everything you've learned and accomplished when there is no indication that response rates to direct mail have changed any more drastically than response rates in any other medium. Withdrawing from mail as a sales medium because e-mail is 'cheaper' may well be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

In fact, if you are prospecting, a recent survey conducted in the UK on behalf of Pitney Bowes brings good news. It discovered the power of direct mail and other off-line media in driving consumers to a given website. 60% of the respondents believed that offline marketing, in the form of addressed mail or direct response ads, is most likely to get them to visit the website of a company they have not bought from before. Only 27% said e-mail would do that.

As a consequence, what needs doing is rediscovering those 'secrets' of direct mail that we all probably forgot ten years ago, re-engaging with what works, and combining it with what works on-line. Even modest forays into multi-channel may be incredibly powerful and successful for you. If your direct mail gets the prospect to move along the engagement scale toward curiosity, why not satisfy that curiosity with a personal url, or purl, designed for that prospect's demographic. If the e-mail gets a hand-raised, follow-up with a personalized letter or brochure done with a variable data printing brochure and sales letter. DSI can help with these projects. Don't forget your customer service corps. If they're not trained to sell and respond to the hand-raisers created by your letters and emails, you've wasted your campaign budget.

And revive those tried-and-true direct mail rules of long-ago.

  • Make the envelope something that 'must' be opened, probably not by plastering offers and fancy logos and 'Quick - look what's inside', but by arousing tasteful curiosity. Today's consumers are not into flash. Simple plain envelope, properly spelled address and name (of course), return name and address very clear. (No window envelopes, either. Window envelopes speak of invoices issued by 20th century companies.) The few companies that are practicing 'under-statement approaches' are getting their envelopes opened. No one does this any more. Tasteful novelty, even old novelty, works.
  • Do the inside right. Spell the client's name correctly, be personal and focus on benefits. Tell the story of the product or service and why it solves a problem, and how.
  • Personalization is the one most powerful thing you can do, but it's a two-edged sword because it is easy to frighten both prospects and customers by appearing to violate privacy. 'How did you know what my mortgage balance is?' Be careful.
  • Test the fundamentals: list, price, offer, format. With and without the purl. Include reply card/purl/800number/email, and see what the response numbers tell you about your database. You may find your over-50 customers are indeed using e-mail, or you may find that your particular over-50 customers would rather speak to someone.
  • Get a pro to write your copy. Now, above all times, is no time to skimp on expressing your value proposition and exposing the wonderful quality of what you have to offer.


Data Services has over 40 years experience in Direct Mail. Call us at +1 (410) 546-2206. We're here to help.