Direct Mail Campaign Basics

Direct mail campaigns still work for many types of businesses. Learn the benefits of direct mail and how to create a strong direct mail campaign. 

Does direct mail marketing still work? Is direct mail dead or alive? For the answer,  look at all the catalogs, postcards, and bills filled to the brim with marketing offers that  get delivered to you through the postal service.

Yes, the Internet has become hardwired into our psyches. Websites, which can generate leads and direct sales, are relatively inexpensive, and a business can send out an email campaign for a fraction of the cost of direct mail.  But a great many people still use direct mail as a path to marketing success. 

That’s because there’s a lot more to marketing than the Internet. That bald headed guy who insists on picking up a bowling ball with his Oreck vacuum cleaner started out as a steady visitor to my mailbox. But “wait,” you might say. Couldn’t he have done that over the Internet? Yes. And no. You’re getting hard and harder to find. Direct mail is still a wonderful way of targeting customers. It’s not as easy or as inexpensive as email marketing, but it’s a lot more effective, predictable and trackable. So when the editors of asked me to write a semi-regular column on best practices in direct mail marketing, I jumped at the chance.

Direct mail marketing Benefits are legion

  • Large numbers of people can be sold on a highly individual customer basis, rather than on a mass consumer basis, eliminating low margin competitive pressures
  • Direct marketing can send a “demographic store” to reach target consumers anywhere they live, unlike “geographic stores” of the retail system which must tailor their product line in areas where prime prospects are located. Unlike the Internet where you may be at the mercy of search engines, you know who is going to get your mailing.
  • Target prospects are reached without middleman dependency. Unmediated transaction between customer and vendor is created with true knowledge of customer purchase behavior.
  • Promotional messages, communications, deals, and target markets are constantly tested and refined toward an optimal effect. This offers total control over the sales process.
  • Like the Internet, most sales are paid for in advance with checks or credit cards. No credit or slow pay problems. A completely accountable, data-driven system is created and implemented.

Here are the basics of a strong direct mail campaign

  1. A letter. Outside of the envelope, the letter is the most important part of the mailing. D.E.L.T.A. Rescue, an animal rescue group, has made an art of the letter. People in focus groups have told me they actually look forwards to D.E.L.T.A.s solicitations.
  2. A reply deadline. It creates a sense of urgency even if it is artificially fabricated, like those “order now before we run out” shoutings you see and hear on infomercials.
  3. A telephone number, e-mail address or URL. Make it easy for your reader and include this information in the body of the letter.
  4. Testimonials. Third-party endorsements are always more effective than your own marketing-speak. Use quotes from satisfied customers to add weight to your claims.
  5. A “free gift” offer is a strong incentive. Or give the customers a special deal like 30% off the third item when you buy three.

Twelve Easy Steps to Create the Perfect Direct Mail Piece

There are as many theories about direct mail as there are direct mail companies. The main trick is to keep your communications hard hitting and flowing. Here are the twelve steps to a successful direct mail piece.

1 – Target your audience carefully. 

Sales are directly related to how accurately you can identify your most likely customers.

2 – Use the “you” word as often as you can. 

Direct Marketer Bob Serling, in his book Direct Marketing Hotseat, suggests you use “you” four times as often as you use “I”.

3 – Send your letter under the “President’s” signature. 

People prefer to deal with the person in charge. Build and foster your relationship with your customer in all your sales materials.

4 – Make a charter offer. 

People like getting in on the ground floor of an enterprise. Charter offers have strong pulling power.

5 – Create a continuity program

A good example is “the Fruit of the Month Club.” You can be sure of sales every month. Start your customers slowly with a trial membership so they can see how the program works without making a large investment.

6 – Offer multiple versions of the same product. 

A “good” — “better” — “best” (or best buy) strategy or a “standard” — “deluxe” — “super deluxe” strategy allows people to make choices. Use these variances instead of a “take this product it or leave it” offer.

7 – Make your envelope work for you. 

Put a message on it like “Here’s some inside information.” Words like “free,” “new,” “announcing” and “important dated material” also motivate people to open the envelope.

8 – Use reply cards and make the 800 number large. 

Make it easy for people to order or call for more information.

9 – Use odd sized envelopes and experiment with textured papers. 

They make your mailing piece stand out from the crowd.

10 – Test one variable at a time and use the results of the mailing for future mailings. 

Keep close track on who’s buying from what ad.

11 – Remember, the consumer has not actually touched the product. 

They’re taking your word that the product is good and will be delivered in a timely manner. Offer free helplines and a super-strong guaranty.

12 – Create a headline like you might find in a tabloid newspaper. 

My favorite was in the New York Post, It said, “Headless woman found in topless bar.” I admit you can’t use that headline in many direct mail campaigns, but it certainly caught my eye. Headlines can make or break a direct mail postcard. So don’t settle for your first attempt. Even professional copywriters rarely hit the mark on the first try. More on headlines in the next installment.

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