How to Get Started with Direct Mail
Direct mail is one of the least expensive marketing tools available to small business: You can control the quantities and costs while targeting existing customers and qualified prospects with a personal message and offering.
Some small businesses are naturally more suited to direct mail than others, but nearly any enterprise can achieve a respectable return on investment. By promoting your product or service to the people who are most likely to respond, you can generate new leads, web traffic, and sales as a result of direct mail marketing.
There are a couple of ways to start. You can enlist the services of a direct-mail list broker, who will help identify the right audience (based on age, gender, location, education, income level, purchasing histories, and other relevant factors) and supply mailing lists that meet your particular criteria. Or you can assemble your own mailing list, based on customer research and an in-depth understanding of your specific market.
Set Up a Mailing List
If you decide to pursue direct mail marketing on your own, you’ll need to put together a list (or lists) of recipients.
- Compile a list of contacts. Include current customers, prospective clients, friends, social media connections, and other people who may be interested in what you offer.
- Conduct a simple, informal customer survey. Learn more about buyers’ preferences and whether customers are open to receiving your direct mail offers and discounts. (The survey form could be handed out with a customer’s first purchase.)
- Track customer buying habits. What do your customers like to buy? How often do they purchase from you? How much do they spend? Your goal is to learn as much as you can about the challenges they face, how your product addresses those challenges, and what else they might need from you in the future.
All of this information can be used to create one or more mailing lists and to develop the contents of your direct mail pieces.
Carefully Craft Your Message(s)
The messaging in any direct mail piece is every bit as critical as who receives it. Think about how much mail people get that ends up in the trash unopened. Here are a few ways to make your contents truly compelling and effective:
- Make it all about the recipient. In simple, straightforward language, craft a message that puts reader benefits first (what you’re offering, how it meets the potential buyer’s needs, etc.). Use wording that emphasizes “you” and not “I” or “we.”
- Reward the direct mail recipient. What does someone gain from reading your direct mail piece? Everyone’s looking for a great offer, so give them one! It can be a coupon, a free sample, a special time-limited online bargain — whatever rewards the recipient and generates a sense of urgency. (To track responses, include a unique promotion code in each mailing or invite customers to bring the mailer to your store for their exclusive discount.)
- Tell them what you want them to do. Your direct mail piece must have a call to action. It can be any of the rewards mentioned above or something as simple as "Contact us for more information" or "Learn more about us online." Your audience needs to know how to respond to your message.
- Get all the basics right and double-check them. You’d be surprised by how many direct mail pieces go out missing some crucial bit of information. Contact details (your business name, store hours, phone number, and email and web addresses) are essential. Before printing the piece, get a fresh pair of eyes to look over the information and make absolutely sure you have everything right.
Give Your Message Visual Appeal
Not sure how your direct mail piece should look? As a general rule of thumb, less is more.
- Keep the design simple. Your message should be crisply written, in as few words as possible. This leaves more room for your logo and a strategically positioned graphic design or photograph (ideally, of your product or service). A mobile bar code is another great customer-engagement tool.
- Be bold. The same eye-catching advice goes for headlines (bold type), subheads, and bullet points. Don’t use more than two fonts or things start to look messy and amateurish.
Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.