10 ways to do direct mail -- better

Monday, October 15, 2001
By John R. Graham

It's so easy to waste money on direct mail that many companies make it a daily practice. Conversely, direct mail can be one of the most efficient, cost-effective marketing vehicles available today.

Even when e-commerce is exploding, every marketing plan should include a direct mail component in order to communicate a company's message. If you want proof of the power of direct mail, notice how Internet companies rely on direct mail to promote their Web sites.

The major issue with direct mail is to get the most from the investment. Here are 10 questions to ask that can help improve the performance of your company's direct mail program.

1. Does the mailing create the right impression? If it looks like junk, this is the impression it will create when it arrives. Apply the highest standards of judgment to how the mailing looks. Don't settle for "just get it out the door." Ask yourself, would you be impressed if you received your own mailings? Would you take them seriously?

2. Is every letter fully personalized? Of course you can get by with "Dear Neighbor" or "Dear Valued Customer," but not if you want to make an impact. Dear Ms. Roberts, Dear Mr. Martinez or Dear Tom makes a far more personal impression. There is no excuse for failing to personalize letters whether they are to customers or prospects. If you want to convey the message that you offer personal service, start by being personal with your direct mail.

3. Does the mailing have eye-appeal? If it isn't interesting on the outside, it won't get opened, and if it isn't appealing on the inside, it won't get read. Your mailing is in brutal competition with dozens of other pieces for attention. Stand out. Use color. Make the package interesting by enclosing two, three or even four pieces.

4. Does it touch the reader's emotions? If it doesn't, don't bother sending it. Your mailing must grab the reader. Make sure the reader will feel left out of a good thing by failing to respond to your offer.

5. Does it tell a story? Describe for the reader how you solved a customer's problem. Tell what happened and talk about the customer's reaction to your solution. Stories are a powerful way to bring your message to life.

6. Have you used testimonials? Credible testimonials are powerful persuaders, particularly today when businesses can't afford to make mistakes. But use only real people and identify them completely. No anonymity and no initials. Readers see through such deceit. And be sure to get permission and a signed release from those providing testimonials.

7. Is the mailing memorable? Just another letter in another dull envelope won't do. Make it fun and interesting. If the reader remembers the mailing, your company will be remembered, too. The chances of a positive response increase.

8. Is the mailing different? One mailing included a clear plastic bag filled with sand, sea shells, miniature sandals, sunglasses, and even a tiny beach umbrella and record player. The attached tag read: "Just add retirement fund and enjoy." Another arrived in a box containing inexpensive binoculars with a card: "Take a closer look at our special offer."

9. How many time have you used "you?" The magic word in direct mail is "you." Talk to the customer and talk about the customer. Avoid the temptation to boast about your company, product or service. Talk directly to the reader about what the reader wants to hear. It's what the customer wants that's important in a direct mail presentation, not what you want to say or sell.

10. Are the sentences short? Use shot, punchy sentences. Keep them simple and clear. Anything complicated only confuses the reader. Sentences can have one or two words. Remember -- be direct.

John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm in Quincy, Mass., 02170. (617-328-0069) The company's Web site is www.grahamcomm.com.

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