Direct Mail Marketing Tips – What NOT to Do

I accepted a new client last week. He asked me for help with his marketing approach. He was disappointed in his return on a recent direct mail campaign and needed a bit of direction on this and and other marketing issues and projects.

He had done several things right:

1.) He had his assistant hand-address the envelopes.
2.) He had her attach REAL stamps to each envelope.
3.) He had included a small, unique give-away item in each envelope.
4.) He hand-signed each letter.

After sending out several hundred letters over the course of three weeks, not a single response was logged. So he called me…I reviewed his situation through a phone conference and I think the details are important enough to share with other small business folks attempting the same approach to marketing via snail mail.

First – you should realize that 2-4% return is doing well when you implement a direct mail campaign. You will spend quite a bit of money doing direct mail and your response rate will be low. It’s a fact of life.

Direct mail is a great way to stay in touch with contacts you have already made, to keep your information in front of current clients and to “touch” the folks that you consider to be a core aspect of your business.

It’s not nearly as effective as a “cold calling” technique.

I asked this new client (name withheld, of course), how he acquired his mailing list.

He had purchased it.

When I asked him how he verified the quality of the list, he said he hadn’t. That’s actually quite common. Many people just buy lists in the geographic areas they seek, and never ask the provider of the list how it was compiled, how often it is verified and how long it’s been since it was verified. There’s also the question of the demographics — is the list that a vendor has for sale one that will target the market you seek?

The client was planning to check with the vendor to get these questions answered. Another red flag for me was that the vendor had only provided contact names for surrounding areas — the two closest areas where strangely absent from that list. Call me crazy, but that screams “I don’t want you to double check any of these names!” The client will be looking up a random group of a couple dozen of the names on the list and will see if the people can be verified using Phone numbers were not included in this list, so there’s no way to call the individuals on the list to check a few here and there.

Next major issue — I asked the client to describe the direct mail piece, the purpose of it (to get them to call, to email, just for information, or some other purpose), and the tone of the piece (festive, serious, etc).

As he described all that was contained in the piece, I had to ask how long this direct mail letter was. He had shortened it down to four pages, he confessed. It had started at SIX!

Folks — think about your own time, your own desire to read unsolicited mail, and tell me how many of you would read a four-page letter from anyone you don’t know?

Yeah, me neither. I told him that even if I knew him casually, that I might slap it on that stack of stuff I will get “around to eventually” — the stack of quasi junkmail that I keep and dump unread every 3-6 months when it gets so thick that the sight of it depresses me.

And, I seldom even see that mail these days. I’m a small time operator, but my husband knows my time is at a premium, and when he is the one that picks up the mail, he presorts it for me. (Bless his heart!) I never have to deal with the junk mail now, unless I’m the one that goes to the post office. That mail goes straight in the garbage (I sort over the garbage can at the post office itself) or into the “firestarter” pile — if it manages to make it all the way back to the cabin.

In larger organizations, the secretary or the other “gatekeeper” is the one that will dump your direct mail piece in the garbage if it looks too “salesy” and the intended recipient will never see it.

I asked the client to email me a copy of this letter. It was written in “sales-speak” and even the formatting and the font choice screamed “I have something to sell you” and there were four full pages of it!

What now?

Our first step was to discontinue sending out anymore letters until the list was verified. The second item is to cut that letter to a single page and rewrite it to be more personal. The third step is to help him evaluate the contacts database he currently has — that’s not the purchased list — to see if that isn’t a better place to start.

I’ve asked the client to narrow his scope and send a letter only to his ideal client type and to add a personalized-looking PS — hand written — to the bottom of each letter. It should be vague enough to fit everyone (if he doesn’t actually know the person), it should reference something personal (if he knows the potential client) and they should always be handwritten so that the secretary (or other “gatekeeper”) will think it’s a personal note and so the addressee will actually take the time to read it.

Direct mail isn’t easy — but it can work, if you focus your efforts and minimize the “file zero” factor.

Personal letters are a welcome oddity these days and the art of letter writing is nearly lost. So, the closer your direct mail is to a personal letter — and the less it looks like a sales piece — the better your response results will be.