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Reach More Customers: Direct Mail Marketing 101 | Business Hub |®

Reach More Customers: Direct Mail Marketing 101

By Stacy Gilmore, Staples® Contributing Writer

Published January 15, 2016

Some have discounted direct mail as antiquated, too expensive, and not of the digital age. However, when done correctly, it can be an impactful, cost-effective way to generate leads, acquire new customers, drive traffic to your store or website, and get your existing customers to shop more.

In order to make the most of your investment, you need to plan and prepare. Below are some tips to consider when planning your direct mail strategy.

1. Determine Your Objective

Are you looking to generate new leads? Acquire new customers? Generate traffic to your retail location or website? Inform existing customers about a new product or service? Pick one objective. Expecting your direct mail to meet multiple objectives will result in poor performance and a wasted investment. Allow your one objective to shape the rest of your strategy, including target audience, offer and message.

2. Identify Your Target Audience

The most important component of your direct mail strategy is your target audience. You could have a great offer, compelling design and copy, and a strong call to action, but if you send it to the wrong people, you may as well have thrown your money out the window.

To determine your target audience, refer back to your objective. If you’re looking to generate new leads or acquire new customers, you’ll need to rent a mailing list. Working with a list broker is often helpful. This person can help educate you on the various lists that are available, from subscriber and association lists to compiled lists. They can also make recommendations on individual lists, selection criteria and targeting strategies that will best meet your objective. Be sure to include leads that you've collected from trade shows, past inquirers and former buyers.

If your goal is to grow share from your existing customers, use your own customer file. You’ll always get the greatest response from your existing customers. Make sure it’s up-to-date with the most accurate names and addresses.

3. Offer! Offer! Offer!

If you want people to respond to your direct mail, you’ll need a compelling offer. It could be in the form of a discount on a product or service, a free gift, a free consultation, etc. Whatever offer you come up with, it should support your objective, be relevant to your target audience and be easy to understand. Make sure to include an expiration date to drive a sense of urgency. And when it's appropriate, use “FREE” in your copy. It’s one of the most powerful, responsive words in direct mail.

4. Deliver a Message That Answers “Why?”

Your message should speak to the needs and interests of your audience. Tell them why they should care about the product or service your business offers, and how it benefits them. Don’t simply list your products or services. You’ll lose your audience quickly.

Be clear, concise and compelling, and end with a strong call to action. You’ve already come up with a great offer. Tell them how to redeem it. Do they need to visit your store or your website? Call a toll-free number? Make it easy for customers to take action.

5. Determine the Right Format

You want your mailing to stand out in the clutter. Choose the best format for your budget, such as an oversized postcard with a prominent offer, a letter in a nondescript envelope, or a sample of your product. Bulky packages get opened. Also, a high-quality photo helps draw attention to your content. And remember, you’re a consumer. What catches your eye in the mail will most likely catch others.

Lastly, consider working with a graphic designer or design services vendor for a professional, consistently branded look. The difference between a DIY design and a creative design could mean the difference between getting your mail opened and getting it thrown in the trash.

6. Test, Analyze and Repeat

The benefit of direct mail is that you can test various elements and measure the effectiveness. Test your list. Test your offer. Test your message. Test your format. Just be sure to keep your testing strategy, so you have confidence in the results. For example, if you test multiple offers, be sure the list, message and format remain constant, and only the offer varies. This way you know any change in response is due to the change in offer. Don’t forget to include a mechanism to track your offer (a code the customer needs to use, for example). 

Finally, be sure to close the loop and analyze the results of your direct mail. It’s easy to wipe your hands of it once your mailing is out the door. However, understanding its performance and determining the ROI is important and crucial to the success of future direct mail efforts. Was there an offer that worked best or a list that didn't work? What was the total investment vs. the sales it generated?

Leverage these insights and make adjustments to your future mailing strategy. Repeat what worked and avoid what didn't.

Learn more and get help with your direct mail campaign at

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