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Stick to the Basics to Boost Direct Mail results

Direct Mail

By Russell Kern

When examining a direct mail campaign to determine why it's not performing, a return to the fundamentals of direct marketing will let you identify the problems and see where improvements need to be made.

Many marketers try to accomplish too much with their direct mail packages. They want to tell the whole story, show everything about the products or services, hoping this will convince prospects to respond. This strategy rarely succeeds because few people have the time or interest to read all the material.

Results of a mailing can improve dramatically if marketers keep in mind that the goal is not to sell a product or service but to generate qualified responses. After the lead is generated, it's time to sell the great features of the product.

The following are examples of two hi-tech direct mailers for the same product. They illustrate that sticking to the fundamentals -offer, headlines and graphic layout -- can get the results.

Self Mailer
The most important aspect of a direct mail package is the mailing surface. Eighty-five percent of all direct mail is delivered address side up, so this is the side where the message should be.

The message and graphics on the outside must compel, invite, excite, arouse curiosity or challenge a prospect to open the envelope. If the surface of the mailing doesn't grab their attention and motivate them to open the package, what's inside doesn't matter.

In this example, the message "Make Fast Ethernet a Slam Dunk" didn't tell the reader anything about what's inside. Where's the offer? Why should the prospect go any further? Most won't.

When a direct mail package is opened, the message should state up front why a prospect should respond. Inside the first example, there were three headlines: "You've gotta have the moves," "You've gotta have choices," "You've gotta have the reliability." Say what? What do these headlines mean? Why would anyone care? The large toll-free number placed vertically near the reply device asked for a response. Why should a prospect respond? What is the offer?

This mailer was attempting to do too much in too little space. It didn't focus on generating responses. Instead, it was trying to sell the product by presenting its features and benefits. However, without a prospect's name and telephone number, there will be no sale.

As you can guess, this self-mailer generated a poor response rate compared with the more recent makeover campaign, which adhered to the fundamentals of direct marketing. Based on market research, a value-oriented message that adhered to the basic principles of direct marketing was crafted.

On the surface of the 6x9 full-colour envelope, an image of Curly from the Three Stooges was used to focus on the primary selling message, How to upgrade to Fast Ethernet without taking a bath. On the same surface was the offer of a free guide to maximising network performance and a bandwidth calculator. This surface gave the prospect reasons to open the package.

Inside were the classic components of a letter, brochure and reply device. Each component focused on the benefits of the offer, what prospects would learn by responding to the offer and how they could solve their problem by responding immediately.

The two mailers generated a dramatic difference in results. The self-mailer brought in a 0.7 percent response, while the make-over package generated a greater than 3 percent response, a 328 percent improvement.

So to improve the results of a direct mail campaign, follow these basic rules of direct marketing:

  • Your mailing surface is the most important panel in your mailing. Give prospects a clear reason to open the package on the side that contains their name.

  • Don't try to accomplish too much in your mailing. It's the offer that generates response. Present the offer, the benefits of the offer and the reasons they should respond.

  • Have an offer that is relevant to your product and identify those people who have a problem that can be solved by the product or service.

  • Focus prospects' attention on your primary objective: response. Tell them all the reasons they should respond, what they will get for responding and why they should act now.
Follow these fundamentals and your direct mail results will surely increase.

Russell Kern is president of Kern Direct, Woodland Hills, CA, a direct marketing agency that specialises in hi-tech and financial direct marketing.

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