5 Cornerstones of Direct Mail that Sells

Direct mail can generate higher trackable returns on investment than any other advertising medium. Yet, year after year, a few seat-of-the-pants advertising romantics follow their impulses and send ill-planned mailings that crash and burn. Then they moan that direct mail advertising does not work.

You don’t have to be one of them, marketing consultant Jeffrey Dobkin writes. It costs you or your client a bundle. It ignores solid profit opportunities. And all it takes to minimize your mailing Waterloos and maximize your chances for success is a bit of sober advance groundwork. Here are five direct-mail basics to cover:

Target your best prospects

Aim your message at people who are “waving money in their hands and are ready to buy, right now,” Dobkin advises. Like all direct marketers, he says that your choice in a mailing lists is critical. Address your mailing to people whose behavior shows that they 1) have enough money to buy what you are selling and 2) as recently as possible, have bought products in the same ballpark.

Make a single simple offer

Yes, some direct mailers claim that they have scored great success with a “layered” offer (you know, buy this widget which will erase wrinkles, or purchase more than one for your friends, and glom onto a freebie, and a draft choice to be named later). A wise adman once observed that, if you are quite lucky, you can put over one idea at a time. A simple benefit-hinged offer is simply more believable and action-sparking than a complicated one.

Test your favorite ideas

Resist time pressures. Testing takes time, often produces surprises, and frequently bruises egos. But it is your best insurance against disaster. And can generate clues worth a fortune. (You are interested in making money, aren’t you?)

Look and sound first class

Worry about how your prospects perceive what you think of them. Any mailing that suggests, even subliminally, that you regard them as dunces or vulgarians is bad for your business. Henry R. Luce of Time Inc. fame, a smart direct mail promoter, always urged writers and art directors to aim just a bit above the reader’s head, because a little flattery sells.

That is not to say that you should use hifalutin language or chi-chi graphics in your mailing pieces. You can be clear and persuasive without sounding condescending.

Worship your data

Let’s face it: most mail advertisers rely on anecdotes and recollection to help them make decisions. But you can achieve better results than they enjoy. Putting every scrap of the information you accumulate from your past mailings into a database, and keeping that database up to date, creates a much more useful guide to future work than memory, which notoriously is subject to costly wishful thinking.



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