Looking to start a direct marketing campaign, but aren’t exactly sure where to, um, start?
If that’s the case, you’re in the right place — and more important, you’re making the right decision to go with direct mail. Did you know — 81% of households either read or scanned advertising mail in 2011, according to the DMA.
“People still like receiving physical mail,” says Mike Sprouse, CEO of Chicago-based Sprouse Marketing Group. “There’s an emotional connection to it.”
For small businesses in particular, direct mail is an important tool to use because it provides immediate response with leads and sales, says John Schulte, president of the Minneapolis-based National Mail Order Association. “It’s personal, you can tell a more complete story, and frankly it’s more credible than, say, e-mail,” he says.
Here are 7 critical steps to create a direct mail campaign from scratch.
1. Set goals — Make it clear on what you hope to achieve from your direct mail campaign. The goal of the mail piece will drive audience, message, copy and design options. Your company’s product or service must be priced high enough, and/or have a high percentage of repeat customers, to make it likely that you’ll profit on a direct mail campaign. Average response rates are 3.42% for letters and 3.99% for postcard campaigns on house lists, according to the DMA.
2. Create a plan and budget — A direct mail plan drives many decisions along the way, including budget, target audience and mailing list, postage and printing options, the need for outside vendors and how to measure the results. As with any other marketing project, detailing resources and predicted costs can help save money and effort later. What existing content can you use or build upon? What professional skills can internal staff offer, such as writing or design?
3. Develop the list — Lists can be an expensive element of a direct mail campaign, costing anywhere from $.05-$.35 or more per name. Begin by compiling a house list organically, if you can — using whatever existing contacts your business already has and contacts that can be harvested from social media. Purchasing a list is more costly than renting, but pays off if you plan to target the list repeatedly over time. “We may rent the list initially and if I get a high enough response, we will repeat the mailing,” says Adam Witty, CEO of Advantage Media Group, a publishing house in Charleston, S.C., that uses direct mail frequently to attract new authors. “But if I know the list contains prime candidates, I will likely buy it.”
If you wish to target certain neighborhoods, such as those adjacent to your business, a service such as Every Door Direct Mail® from the U.S. Postal Service makes it easy. The service provides an affordable alternative to buying or renting a list: Identify the neighborhood you want to target, and the U.S. Postal Service delivers the piece to every address.
4. Send the right message — Do not underestimate the importance of copywriting. Gather as much information as possible about the recipients, says Debra Ellis, a marketer from Asheville, N.C. “The more you can personalize the content, the better the response.” A primary goal is to ensure that your piece captures the reader’s attention quickly. (Does it pass the at-a-glance test?) Unless you have a writing pro on staff, this is an area to outsource to someone with experience. There’s always the option of using crowd-sourcing sites that are easily accessible on the web — these sites can provide quality copywriting services.
5. Create unique designs — If you’ve got the budget, many companies are experimenting with dimensional mailers and even 3-D mailers. And be sure to integrate direct mail with technology. Whatever you do, though, ensure that the concept causes natural curiosity to open the letter or read the card. Take advantage of the tangible nature of direct mail for maximum impact, like in this award-winning campaign. Spending more by including high-quality images or selecting a special stamp suited to your audience can help drive up response rates, according to Adam Witty of Advantage Media Group. “Share the campaign details with everyone in the company prior to the mailing,” says Debra Ellis. “People who haven’t worked on the campaign have fresh insights.”
6. Choose a fulfillment provider — If you plan to send more than 2,000 pieces, a fulfillment house is usually necessary to manage the printing and mailing, says Sprouse Marketing Group’s Mike Sprouse. Take note that some fulfillment houses will provide other services, such as planning, copywriting and graphic design. Selecting the right printer can save time and money and even improve your response rates.
7. Test, measure and refine — Through control groups and “split-testing” methods, you can find out what’s working and what’s not, without spending too much money on a single concept that doesn’t resonate. “The best practice is to segment your efforts into a small zone and A/B/C/D test to a small portion of the list and collect data. If you see acceptable results, run with it,” says Piotr Dewicki, president of a Denver Internet marketing firm.
After the mailings are done, a postmortem can also improve ROI. The core metric that marketers care about is response rates, which should be in the 2% to 4% range for house lists. Mike Sprouse advises analyzing estimated to actual costs for cost-saving opportunities, as well as comparing creative, lists and overall profit/loss numbers between mailings so you can refine campaigns and improve results over time.
“Often, depending on what the call to action for the mailing was, it does take some time to know if your mailing works,” Sprouse adds. Whether your offer is an in-store redemption, something to mail back or an online response, response times should be factored in when doing any type of campaign analysis.
Hopefully these tips helped you get off the ground running. Get out there and create the next great campaign.Direct Marketing 101, Small Business, Strategy