The Post Office Can Help You Improve Sales

Row of mail boxes

Despite the popularity of e-marketing, direct mail still works for many companies. How well it works depends on a number of variables. It's a game of percentages.

Here are five tips to help improve your company's odds:

1. Remember that "Direct" Is the Operative Word. A key advantage of direct mail versus traditional advertising to a mass audience is the ability to effectively reach people who are good prospects for your product or service. How well do you know your target market -- factors such as age, gender, level of education, marital status, household income and geographic location? If you're working with a list broker, such information helps determine which lists will bring the best results.

The more specific your list requirements, the higher the cost. But it may be worth it. A carefully targeted campaign reduces printing and postage costs and that savings is magnified over multiple mailings.

Whether you maintain your own direct mail database or rent lists of names, it's important to have current addresses. Watch out for bargain lists whose principal source of contacts is the telephone book. A significant percentage of listings are outdated even before the phone book is published.

Because bulk mail doesn't get forwarded or returned to the sender, it's smart to clean up your database or list before mailing. The U.S. Postal Service maintains a National Change of Address (NCOA) service that it licenses to vendors.

When your list is NCOA processed, business or consumer addresses that have changed in the previous three and one-half years are updated before your mailing. It's generally cheaper and certainly better than doing "Change Service Requested" (formerly "Address Correction Requested"), which doesn't provide you updated addresses until after your mailing. Anytime you can increase the number of pieces delivered to your target market, you improve the response.

2. Make the Headline Count. Your direct mail piece has about three seconds to hook recipients. The headline must trigger their "what's in it for me?" reflex. That's why pitches like: "Lose 10 lbs. in 2 Weeks!" motivate many people to read on. Notice it says nothing about the product and everything about what the recipient stands to gain.

When you're writing headlines, "benefits" are more enticing bait than "features." By the way, there's an important piece of direct mail real estate that often gets overlooked. It's the space on the envelope or the address side of a post card. There's room for a teaser, such as "Valuable Coupons Inside." Just make sure the placement of the phrase meets postal requirements.

In addition to a good headline, your solicitation can be enhanced with a good postscript. Many people who only scan letters will read down to the P.S.

3. Be Persistent. Many companies make the mistake of giving up on direct mail after one or two mailings. A rule of thumb in direct marketing is that you should mail to recipients, including your own customers, at least six times per year. Of course, you want to vary the content of your mailings, but give them a "family" look so that they're instantly recognizable as coming from your firm.

4. Make it Easy to Respond. What do you want the recipient to do? Call for information? Reply to a survey? Order a product? Visit your store? Too often, direct mailers forget to include a "call to action." Make it convenient for recipients to act. If you want them to call, clearly provide the phone number and hours. If you want them to respond to a survey, enclose a postage-paid reply envelope.

5. Test Everything. Brainstorm about the many factors that can impact your results. Do test mailings. Colors, headlines, lists, delivery time, paper stock and the time of year you're mailing are just a few things to consider.

Before each mailing, take a sample of your direct mail piece to a Post Office Business Mail Center if you live in an urban area, or to the person responsible for business mail in a smaller city. They'll advise you on how to prepare your mailing to qualify for postal discounts and to ensure speedy delivery. Always do one or more test mailings before you invest in a huge direct mail campaign.

Keep in Mind that Smaller Can Be Better

Some companies find they get a better response to offers made on postcards. Postcards cost much less to mail than first class letters. Plus, they are less expensive to design and print than a full-blown mailing. The savings can be substantial.

The Value of Direct Mail

Based on research conducted by the U.S. Postal Service, the value of mail as opposed to other forms of communication is measurable.

  • Mail has a greater chance of delivering your message, because it is more likely to reach the intended recipient. Even mail that is addressed to "owner" or "manager," or another title without a specific name included will generally be routed to the right person. You can add even more value by sending your mail by expedited service.
  • Your mail message has a longer life. Business people keep useful mail, viewing it as a resource of helpful information, and even creating a mail library.
  • Mail is a resource for decision makers. When it comes to such decisions as purchases, selecting vendors, or finding training or professional events, business people reference their library of received mail.
  • Mail drives Web traffic, encourages responses, and builds relationships. Used effectively, mail facilitates comfortable relationships by providing easy reply mechanisms such as postcards or postage-paid envelopes, and by motivating recipients to log onto the advertiser's website for more information.

The bottom line is, business people value useful mail. If the message is helpful it is often read and retained as a resource for decision making. The mailing can be highlighted, saved, and shared with others who need it.

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