Use the Post Office to Increase Sales

Post office mail box

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 six tips to help improve your company's odds:

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 -- age, gender, level of education, marital status, household income, geographic location, etc.? 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 mailing 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 A significant percentage of listings are outdated even before the phone book is published.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 data base or list before mailing. The United States Postal Service (USPS) 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Before each mailing, take a sample of your direct mail piece to a USPS 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 the 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.

Bulk Rate Rules

The U.S. Postal Service offers bulk mail discounts because you are expected to do some of the work that postal workers normally do, like sorting the mail a specific way, and using a designated post office.

All parties benefit. You get lower mailing costs in exchange for the investment of time and technology, and the Postal Service reduces its costs. According to the U.S. Postal Service, to use bulk mail you must:

  • Get a bulk mail permit and pay an annual fee.
  • Pay postage using precanceled stamps, a postage meter, or a permit imprint.
  • Use smart choices for mailings, such as size, shape, and weight of pieces.
  • Ensure addresses are accurate, and presort mail by zip code.
  • Take your mail to the post office where you have your permit.

Click here to check out a good resource on the USPS website called "Business Mail 101."

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