Direct Mail – A Numbers Game

Six seconds, one percent, 3000 addresses, thousands of dollars. Direct mail. It’s a numbers game.

Yes, it’s a numbers game, but there is no other marketing approach that allows a regular business to reach so many prospects, in such a powerful way, at so low a cost. Not advertising, not telemarketing, not personal sales calls, not the Internet.

Clients often ask, “What should go into a direct mail campaign?” Everything. Actually, no. Everything needs to be in a Direct Response Campaign; other direct mail campaigns require fewer things.

First, a definition: Direct Mail means addressed to an individual, not to the “occupant”, “general manager” etc. Neither is it un-addressed admail. There are two general kinds of direct mail, based on the target audience: business to business, and consumer. And there is a difference between regular direct mail, and “direct response mail”. Direct response is a subset of direct mail: in it, the goal of the campaign is to have the target respond to it, before it can be considered successful.

As consumer mail has the most statistics behind it, I’m going to refer to it most often. Where business to business (B2B) differs from consumer, I’ll put the B2B information in an “aside”.

Once they’ve come across your envelope in the post, your prospect will take less than three seconds to decide to open it or trash it. By opening it, they’re identifying themselves as real prospects.

B2B is often sent in plain business envelopes, which tend to be opened as a matter of routine.

Next your prospect takes about nine seconds to scan the contents: the response device, the letter, your brochure and the response device again. (People look at the response device twice, as it has their name on it, and, it turns out, people like to see their names in print.) If you fail to hook them in that time, you’re in the trash.

As you can see, you don’t have much time.

Your task is to get your audience emotionally involved with your mailing. They’re either emotionally involved or it’s into the trash.

One method, used in consumer mailings to build emotional involvement is creating visual clutter. Visual clutter roughly drags the viewer around the page, and through the various inclusions. By “exploring” the mailing, they become “involved” with it.

While this should work with B2B mailings, your business prospects are less tolerant of clutter.

Some direct mail approaches:

  • Postcards. The implication is: good news, an easy decision, quick to deal with. However, they can be seen as representing low value, if they are not done right. Production values and creativity are extremely important with postcards.
  • Self mailers. These are often used in B2B. They tend to have very high pass along value. They’re a quick read, and often used to sell seminars, conferences, single books, for lead generation or traffic building. Statistically, seminar mailings pull 0.3% or less.
  • Catalogues. These have a fairly high response rate, and are kept for a comparatively long time. However, they are hugely expensive to print and distribute. These are being replaced by postcard invitations to view an online catalogue.
  • Standard direct mail package. At the minimum, these consist of an outer envelope, sales letter, brochure and business card. They can get very much more complicated than this. These can pull from lower than 0.5% to as high as 5%, or even 10% for outstanding campaigns.
  • Standard direct response package. At the minimum, these consist of an outer envelope, sales letter, response device, brochure and return envelope. They also can get very much more complicated than this. Again, these can pull from lower than 0.5% to as high as 5%, or even 10% for outstanding campaigns.

For the most part, direct mail packages are seen as more personal than the other methods. They can also deliver a larger quantity of information. If you want someone to respond to you, you need to give them enough information to justify their actions.

In the briefest terms, any good direct mail package does the following:

  • It frames the offer.
  • It highlights the benefits.
  • It visually reveals the concept.
  • It calls the reader to action.

You don’t know which piece of your mailing a prospect will look at first. So, every element in the package must contain the key benefits and focus on the offer.

COPYWRITING

There are six kinds of copy you need to write for your direct mail piece. Each one plays a different, but important role.

The first is your benefit copy. It builds desire. A benefit shows the improvement that the user will gain through the product or service.

Then the descriptive copy makes up for the fact that your reader can’t “kick the tires”. This is where the product/service is made tangible. Visuals play a big role here.

Support copy validates your story. It can be data, statistics or research. Or it can be examples, case studies, histories, (Which are 3rd person recommendations.), or testimonials (Which are 1st person recommendations.) Of course, it can be all of these together.

Then there are the “sweeteners”. These are incentives and choices: “Free gift”, “Yours to keep”, “Buy now and get blah blah blah, etc.”

Finally, the “facilitators”: guarantees, “toll free numbers”, “pay later”, etc. These make it easier for your reader to say YES.

THE ENVELOPE

To develop a good envelope, you need to answer these questions:

  • What is your prospect thinking?
  • What’s going to get the envelope opened?
  • What’s going to get the response you want?

Consumer oriented direct mail envelopes announce that they’re advertising something. They use teaser copy, bold graphics, even photos to get people to open them. When people open these, they know they are about to be “sold” something.

Direct mail lead generation and other B2B mailings often use a more subdued #10 or plain 5 7/8 x 9 envelope, often without even a company name on the envelope. This has its dangers, as a recipient might feel “tricked” into opening it.

(Fundraising mailings often take the direct sales approach. The trick with them is not to look spendthrift.)

Postal regulations are complex. If you’re doing any large quantity mailings, review your options before you design your mailing. Review the regulations at ups.gov for Americans or canadapost.com for Canadian mailings.

If you intend to do a large mailing, it’s best to hire a lettershop to assemble it for you. They will actually save you money, as they can put your mailing together the best way to suit the postal regs. Make sure your materials will fit their equipment and your envelopes. For ease of insertion, your envelopes should be 1/2 inch longer and 1/4 taller than your material.

I intended to give you the whole story in this article, but I realize I’ve carried on for quite a long while. I’ll finish my story of direct mail in Direct Mail the Numbers Game, Part Two, where I’ll talk about sales letters, response devices and brochures.