Direct mail as an advertising medium.
Find out what direct mail can do for your business and why it’s a powerful advertising medium.
Getting down to business with direct mail
What can direct mail do for your business? It’s up to you, but right now, many successful businesses are making use of direct mail as an advertising medium to:
- Identify and attract new customers
- Increase the loyalty of current customers
- Retain or win back lost customers
- Provide better service to customers
- Enhance the work of a sales force
- Target advertising messages more effectively
Direct mail really is a powerful advertising medium. It can convey complex messages, make a simple call to action and help build your brand. The only limit is your imagination.
As you read this article, we hope you’re inspired to think about the new ways your business could be using direct mail as an advertising medium.
“What can direct mail do for me?”
Direct mail can place a specially tailored message in the hands of the right person, at just the right time. All you have to do is identify the people or organisations most likely to do business with you, and you’re on the way to targeting your advertising activity better than ever before.
Because direct mail tends to be personally addressed, you are communicating with people in a much more personal way than other forms of advertising. And because direct mail is designed to attract a response from people, you can measure how well it works to achieve your objectives.
The secret to using direct mail effectively is to grab the attention of the reader quickly and keep it. Creativity is important in helping you do this. But above all, for direct mail to be truly effective, every piece of direct mail you produce has to give a clear answer to the recipient when they ask: “What’s in this for me?”
Identifying new customers
Let’s say you have a product, and you know a little about the kind of people who are likely to buy it.
For example, offering healthy, nutritious breakfasts for people who like to keep fit and healthy. If we know enough about the group of people we’re trying to reach, we can construct a database of their names and addresses to mail to.
You can build a database in many different ways, as you’ll see later in this article. The mail which you then develop with such a database might be a special invitation to try the product, information about your product or even simply details of where to purchase.
Remember that direct mail is capable of carrying much more detail than the average TV or press ad.
And, if the market you’re in is very competitive, direct mail makes it hard for your competitors to find out what you’re up to!
Increasing the loyalty of current customers
When customers find a product or service they like, you can encourage them to keep coming back by communicating regularly with them, using direct mail.
Remember: it costs much more to find new customers than it does to hang on to old ones. That’s why many successful businesses are using direct mail customer loyalty programs to do just that.
Databases can help you track customer purchase patterns and other customer behaviour patterns. This information can be used to reinforce the customers’ connection with your business. “Newsletter” style communications are a very popular activity for example.
These make customers feel like they have a “relationship” with your business. And of course, in this medium, you can make unique offers and provide extra bonuses to loyal customers which can make these people feel “special”, without other less loyal customers finding out!
Retaining customers, winning back lost ones
A personal letter has more impact than most other forms of advertising. When it’s personally addressed and contains a message that’s relevant to your customer’s needs, it can become a powerful way to provoke action from them.
You can keep your customers coming back to you by doing simple little things like writing a note to thank them for their last purchase. Or to tell them about a new product you’re introducing. Or simply to tell them you value their custom.
In the same way, direct mail can help “rescue” customers who may have had a bad experience with you, or who simply haven’t done any business with you lately.
A simple message reinforcing your commitment to them can often win back lost (or dwindling) business.
Providing better service to customers
Providing better customer service using direct mail could be as simple as polite follow-up letters, thank you notes or reminders that look very professional.
Some businesses even include birthday cards into their customer service direct mail activities! It all depends on how far you want to take it.
Enhancing sales force activities
Just as direct mail can help identify new customers, it can also help your sales force work more efficiently.
How often have you heard salespeople complain about unqualified sales leads – people who simply weren’t worth bothering with?
Apart from helping to generate new sales leads for your salespeople, direct mail can also help to “filter” sales leads. By using questionnaires and carefully designed response mechanisms, direct mail can help you ensure that salespeople only spend time chasing people who are ready to purchase or have expressed a genuine interest in the product or service. In many cases, direct mail can get “hot” prospects to identify themselves!
Direct mail can also be put to work in the important period after the first sales contact, to ensure that the customer doesn’t lose interest, or worse still, go off and purchase the competitor’s product!
Targeting your message
The first step is deciding who to write to and how to get a list of their names. If you’re a corporate caterer you wouldn’t write to ‘brides-to-be’ offering your catering service.
If you know what distinguishes your potential customers, you should use that information. Generally speaking, the more precisely you target your direct mail, the better your response rate.
Once you have a database, it’s important to remember that it isn’t necessary to write to every single person on it to achieve a result. In rough terms, many businesses find that it’s the same 20% or so of customers who generate 80% or so, of the ongoing response to mailings. It’s called the “80/20” rule.
You can segment your database to save on mailing costs and increase the profitability of mailings. You may want to selectively mail only those people who spend more than a certain amount with you.
Building a database
There are many ways to build a database of customers. You may already have one without realizing it.
It could be your invoices, competition entries or questionnaires. The first step is turning them into a file that can be used for mailing purposes.
If you don’t have any of this information to hand, or it doesn’t amount to a significant amount, here are other ways you can build your database:
- adding a coupon or telephone response mechanism to any current advertising you are doing.
- conducting a competition or survey to gather names and addresses.
- Yellow Pages
It shouldn’t be too hard to identify characteristics in common with a significant segment of your target audience.
Making customers an offer they can’t refuse
As outlined at the start of this article, every piece of direct mail you produce has to give a clear answer to the recipient when they ask “What’s in this for me?”
One of the best ways to answer this question is to build a direct mail campaign around an “offer”. There are many forms of offers. It doesn’t have to be a discount. It could be the chance to enter a competition, an offer of free information, an incentive to respond within a limited time, a free gift or a bonus.
If you keep making the right offers to the right people, direct mail will work for you again and again.
Importantly, direct mail allows you to avoid making costly offers to large numbers of people. You can save the really juicy offers for your best customers! And, as we said earlier, it’s very hard for your competitors to find out about your activities, so it’s hard for them to compete!
Tracking the results
There’s no point running a direct mail campaign unless you put some of your efforts into tracking responses carefully.
That means recording responses systematically, on your database to help you plan your next mailouts.
Prompt attention to any enquiries generated will give customers confidence in your business. Delays or poor service will have a detrimental effect on the success of future direct mail efforts.
If you are relying on staff to provide the follow-up to your direct mail campaign, make sure they are familiar with the offer you are making and the contents of the direct mail package so that they can answer any questions.
Finally, remember to add any extra information you gather along the way such as new customers or address updates, to your database promptly to have your database ready for future mailings.
Making it all happen
Producing a direct mail campaign is slightly more complex than producing some other kinds of advertising. There are a number of stages in the production of a campaign which each need time and care.
So to produce your direct mail campaign by a certain date, make sure you have enough time for:
- writing the material
- artwork, photograph and design
- printing of envelopes
- preparation of your mailing list
- laser printing of the personalised elements
- inserting and packaging
Many larger direct mail users often engage the services of specialist direct marketing agencies, whose experience in direct mail production can assist with these logistics.
Want to find out what direct mail can do for your business and why it’s a powerful advertising medium? Why not download copies of our ‘How to…eGuides:
NOTHING HAPPENS UNLESS YOU MAKE IT HAPPEN!