Should direct (snail) mail have a place in your marketing mix? Yes, but you need to do it right

direct response marketing

Before the days of the Internet, direct mail served as one of the key pillars of direct response marketing. The concept that you could connect directly with potential purchasers of your product or service, and obtain orders without hoping for success or sell-throughs from intermediate distributors/retailers or brokers created an alluring ideal. A set of rules and principles (and specialized training courses/programs) were developed to educate business people with direct marketing techniques.

Some of these approaches seem quaint and slow in the Internet and social media era, yet many current marketing practices trade their roots to the principles applied in 1980s and earlier.

Consider for example, the foundation of most traditional direct marketing — direct mail, coupled with specialized print media ads and broadcast infomercials designed to lure purchasers into doing business with you through detailed and relatively lengthy stories (at least compared to standard product advertising.)

Today, we use email (spam, I hope not!) and website landing pages to deliver the “hook” that traditional direct mail marketers applied. The idea (which works well on the web as well as in print): Attract interest with a truly catchy and appealing headline/intro, draw the reader into the story through the narrative — the longer the reader is engaged, the higher the probability of a purchase — and then go for the close with a “call to action” (and make it easy for potential clients to say yes by simplifying the ordering process, and reducing the fear of risk/failure, with a 100 per cent money-back guarantee, for example.)

Of course there are two other key elements to effective direct marketing. The first is your mailing/emailing list, or your confidence that the external media you are using will connect with the people you want to reach. In some cases, this is a no-brainer; for example, your current and recent-past client risk will undoubtedly include a reasonably high percentage of readers/users who will want to do business with you in the future.

The second element and the key to direct marketing’s profitability is effective testing. You can test virtually everything and weigh the results to determine whether you roll out the campaign — with a caveat. The list or market overall needs to be large enough that a sample size of 500 won’t burn your whole market. Depending on the size of your potential market/list, you can get to truly granular variations, such as subtle colour changes or headline wording changes.

(Google does this with its systems roll-outs. It is constantly testing new variations on a relatively small sample of its overall user base/audience. Of course this sort of testing is quite easy to do when the overall universe/market is in the millions and billions of users.)

If your list is smaller, then you need to take a more cautious approach in rolling out your marketing campaign. Perhaps you can informally review it will a very small sample of just a few potential clients for some feedback. If it “flies”, then launch; if not, be cautious.

Most importantly, however, you don’t need to agonize?over things. If your list/sample/market is small, you’ll not need to invest a significant amount of money find out if your campaign works, and you’ll know quite often how well things are going within days. If the list/market is much larger, the testing process reduces the risk immensely.\

You don’t do any large-scale runs until you have viable test results — so you will be profitable, no matter what happens. Then you can use small sample tests to continuously improve your offer and enhance the results.

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