Despite the popularity of e-marketing, direct mail still works for many companies. How well it works depends on a number of variables. It’s a game of percentages. Here are six tips to help improve your company’s odds:

  1. Direct is the operative word. A key advantage of direct mail versus traditional advertising to a mass audience is the ability to effectively reach people who are good prospects for your product or service. How well do you know your target market – age, gender, level of education, marital status, household income, geographic location, etc.? If you’re working with a list broker, such information helps determine which lists will bring the best results.

The more specific your list requirements, the higher the cost. But it may be worth it. A carefully targeted mailing reducing printing and postage costs, and that savings is magnified over multiple mailings.

Whether you maintain your own direct mail database or rent lists of names, it’s important to have current addresses. Watch out for bargain lists whose principal source of contacts is the telephone book. A significant percentage of listings are outdated even before the phone book is published.

Because bulk mail doesn’t get forwarded or returned to the sender, it’s smart to clean up your database or list before mailing. The United States Postal Service (USPS), maintains a National Change of Address (NCOA) service that it licenses to vendors.

When your list is NCOA processed, business or consumer addresses that have changes in the previous three and one-half years are updated before your mailing. It’s generally cheaper and certainly better than doing “Change Service Requested”. This does not provide you updated addresses until after your mailing. Anytime you can increase the number of pieces delivered to your target market, you improve the response.

2. Make the headline count. Your direct mail piece has about three seconds to hook recipients. The headline must trigger their “What’s in it for me?” reflex. That’s why pitches like: “Lose 10 lbs. in 2 Weeks!” motivate many people to read on. Notice it says nothing about the product and everything about what the recipient stands to gain.

Use compelling words in your headlines. For example, benefits, is a more enticing noun than, features. 

There’s an important piece of direct mail real estate that often gets overlooked. It’s the space on the envelope or the address side of the post card. There’s room for a teaser, such as “Valuable Coupon Inside”. Just make sure the placement of the phrase meets postal requirements.

In addition to a good headline, your solicitation can be enhanced with a good postscript. Many people who only scan letters will read down the P.S.

3. Be persistent. Many companies make the mistake of giving up on direct mail after one or two mailings. A rule of thumb in direct marketing is that you should mail to recipients, including your own customers, at least six times a year. Of course, you want to vary the content of your mailings, but give them a “family” look so that they’re instantly recognizable as coming from your firm.

4. Make it easy to respond. What do you want the recipient to do? Call for information? Reply to a survey? Order a product? Visit your store? Too often, direct mailers forget to include a call to action. Make it convenient for recipients to act. If you want them to call, clearly provide the phone number and hours. If you want them to respond to a survey, enclose a postage-paid reply envelope.

5. Test everything.  Brainstorm about the many factors that can affect your results and do test mailings. Colors, headlines, lists, delivery time, paper stock and the time of year that you’re mailing are just a few things to consider.

Before each mailing, take a sample of your direct mail piece to a USPS Business Mail Center if you live in an urban area, or to the person responsible for business mail in a smaller city. They’ll advise you on how to prepare the mailing to qualify for postal discounts and to ensure a speedy delivery. Always do one or more test mailings before you invest in a huge direct mail campaign.

6. Smaller can be better. Some companies find they get a better response to offers made on postcards. Postcards cost much less to mail than first class letters. Plus, they are less expensive to design and print than a full-blown mailing. The savings can be substantial.