5 Proven Tactics For More Effective Direct Mail

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5 Proven Tactics For More Effective Direct Mail

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We’ve all received a direct mail piece at one point in our lives. What did you do with it? Did you open it? Did you read it? Did you call the number or visit the website? If you didn’t do any of these, the marketer responsible failed to successfully engage you and has lost the possibility of revenue. In today’s post, I’ll give you 5 simple, actionable, and proven ways you can boost the revenue from your direct mail efforts – whether you run 1 campaign a year or 1,000.

1. Drop the Bread Crumb

According to this article by the Motley Fool, there are an estimated 54 Million Amazon Prime Subscribers in the US alone. So, there is a good chance you know exactly what it feels like to agonize over those 2 long days it takes for your next purchase to show up at your door. How will the product be packaged? How will it feel in your hands? How will it work? All questions I’d wager fly through your head while you track your package’s delivery date with extreme interest.

My point here is, curiosity is a powerful driver of human behavior (for more proof see here, here, and here). Use this to your advantage. “Dropping the breadcrumb” can be as simple as mentioning you’re sending the customer something on a sales call. Or as elaborate as an automatic email drip teasing the package’s arrival a week ahead of the delivery. I’ve found the most effective tactic falls somewhere in the middle.

For example, setup an email from the account owner with the subject line “Your package is on the way – .” In the email, keep it short and sweet “Look out for the package I sent your way. Track the delivery status here,”(make sure you provide a link to tracking info on a major mail site). This will serve two purposes:

  1. Engage their curiosity and transition them to an “active” customer
  2. Lower their “resistance” to the marketing piece once it arrives

Like nearly everything in the new age of marketing, it’s a numbers game. The more customers you can actively engage with your direct mail, the higher your conversion rates. Many mail houses will provide you with the tracking info at no additional cost depending on the level of package you send. Which leads me to my next tactic…

2. Stand Out

Similar to how a great subject line in an email influences the customer to open, the envelope or delivery method gets the customer to open or read your direct mail as well. From what I’ve seen first hand in my personal mailbox, “standing out” is becoming increasingly common. However, there is a real difference between standing out in a good way and standing out in a bad way. For instance, living in New Hampshire, I recently received a flashy (read: expensive) direct mail piece from a Republican presidential candidate (I won’t mention any names). It looked and read like a marketing piece before I even opened it up for the main message. This piece stood out for the wrong reasons. So when I say “stand out” the sole purpose of doing this is to get the customer to open or read the main message. If your piece doesn’t accomplish this first step, you’re probably better off spending your money on coffee for the team instead.

A great way to get the customer to the open the direct mail is pairing the above tactic (dropping the bread crumb) with a true “package” looking delivery method. My personal favorite is a 9 1/2 by 12 1/2 USPS priority ‘rip’ envelope. It looks like a package in the mail, you can get tracking numbers easily, and the customer has to “rip” it open- who doesn’t love that? But most importantly, you don’t tip your hand to the recipient as to the contents inside. If it doesn’t look like marketing, customers are more likely to open up the package. And more importantly, if you’ve done a good enough job of dropping the bread crumb, the customer should want to open up the “package” and see what’s inside! Going back to the Amazon paradigm, in all of your direct mail pieces aim to create that sense of anticipation and curiosity in the customer, as they’re powerful behavioral motivators.

One last tip: if the piece is written with what I call a “sales-actional” approach (think account update with an indirect up-sell), it’s not out of bounds to make the customer sign for delivery of the package. USPS offers reporting on these signatures which will gives you concrete delivery dates to further align your sales follow-up strategy (which I’ll get into a little later).

3. Personalize it

According to this study, personalization can often garner response rates that are three times higher than generic direct mail. I highly recommend finding ways to personalize each piece of mail directly to a customer’s specific circumstances or lifecycle point.

Use dynamic filler fields on your mail pieces to customize by name, company, industry, contract, etc. You can even craft an offer for customer A based on their past purchase behavior, give a different offer to customer B, and a different offer to customer C. Everybody loves when something is made specifically for them and even more importantly, relevant.

I would say the options are limitless, but unfortunately they aren’t. Why? Simply put, data. If you’re not constantly collecting this information from your customers, you’ll be limited by your available data sets. This alone should be a huge motivator for you to implement a clever strategy to gain marketable customer intelligence.

4. Humanize it

The consuming public, now more than ever, have been inundated with marketing and advertising. As a result, they’ve become highly resistant to advertising of any kind. According to a Yankelovich Partners Inc. study, “60% of consumers have a much more negative opinion of marketing and advertising than they did a few years ago.”

I can’t lie. I laugh a little inside when I receive a direct mail letter from a major bank and it’s selling me hard on their services. The envelope generally is stamped with “special offer inside” and the letter has call outs strewn about the page in bright colors. To top it all off, it’s signed by the Chief Marketing Officer, clearly providing evidence it’s marketing. So in literally a two-second scan, I can tell it’s another annoying generalized marketing offer…which is a one-way ticket to the trash can.

Marketers must adapt to the new world we live in. With the explosion of digital advertising in the last decade, the public is bombarded with advertising of all kinds more than ever before. It’s no wonder consumers are developing a more extreme revulsion to marketing. We must adapt our tactics to break through the noise.

The “big secret” of cutting through the noise I’ve been preaching for years is this:

Humanize your marketing every chance you get to increase your customer engagement and conversion rates.

Would you rather speak to an automated voice answering system where you know you’re being treated as a number? Or do you prefer a human on the other end of the phone that calls you by name and understands your exact situation? I think the answer is obvious for us all…down with the robots!

The same concept above can be applied to your direct mail pieces. Instead of writing in a boring mass-audience corporate tone (where selling is obviously the main goal), humanize your copy and sprinkle indirect pitches into the piece! Write as if the account owner wrote the copy themselves and are simply “checking-in” with their best accounts. We’ve experienced an increase in conversion when the piece is sent from their main point of contact at our business (the sales rep) vs. only the brand without a rep behind the message.

For example, an effective tactic I’ve used to humanize copy in the B2B space is leveraging the “sales-actional” messaging approach I mentioned above. Give them a quick account update like “you’re 50% through your contract” and then up-sell them with an offer like “as a result, I’ve run some numbers and it looks like we can increase your credit-line…” From there, stay customer centric; don’t beat them over the head with the sales message. Ask them what their plans are for the next couple months and if there is anything “I” can do to help achieve your goals? Ask them questions that urge the customer to start a conversation with the rep (over the phone). Plant the up-sell seed in both the first and last sentence to maximize your possibility of conversion. Make sure the rep’s contact info is front and center to drive inbound call volume. Long story short, personalized and humanized copy has proven extremelyeffective for me in driving millions of dollars in business. I’d wager it would work for you as well.

As I’ve laid out above, marketing (and direct mail specifically) is a numbers game. But it’s also a stage game, just like emails. If you get your customers to open the piece, the next step is to get them to read it. Once they read it, you’re end goal is to get them to call in and ask for the offer. Leveraging a “sales-actional” tone is proven to engage the customer and lower their resistance to the delivery of the marketing message, which ultimately, will increase conversion.

5. We’ve Only Just Begun

If you follow all of the steps above, you’re well on your way to a double digit response rate. But you’re not done yet! Sure, a well written and delivered direct mail will generate inbound calls and visits to your URLs, but so much conversion is left on the table without a solid follow-up engagement plan for sales.

If your company has bandwidth, setup call tasks in your CRM for your sales reps to follow-up a day after the direct mail lands. This provides your reps with a great way to increase their live contact rates. And it makes sense for them to initiate a conversation about the piece of mail ‘they’ sent over yesterday.

I have witnessed a direct correlation between higher live contact rates/engagement and higher conversion rates. Direct mail is not cheap, so do everything you can to ensure live contact is made.

For instance, setup 2-3 call tasks for each rep until they chase down the lead and make live contact. Remove all the live contact term codes in Salesforce (or similar CRMs) from round 1 and setup round 2, then repeat again for round 3.

Another option: remember when I mentioned signature confirmation above? Setup automated calls as soon as you receive this info from the mail house to increase your live contact rates. If they’re not responding to the direct mail or the follow-up calls, make one last ditch effort via email or text. Maybe they’re channel sensitive and there is only one way to find out…

It’s extremely important to formulate a plan to follow up on your expensive direct mail pieces. It’s not enough these days to simply send them out and pray for responses. Some of our most successful direct mail campaigns achieved 40-50% response rates. Without a well orchestrated follow-up plan for sales, we would have been lucky to receive half that response rate.

5.1. Test

I know the title says “5 ways,” but I figured you wouldn’t argue with a freebie. Testing can help you hone in on specific elements within your direct mail that trigger increased response rates. An effective methodology like “champion vs. challenger” allows you to constantly optimize your message and design approach. However, this is often easier said than done. Make sure every CTA is tied back to the correct campaign so you can accurately measure the results of each individual mail piece within the test. This means different phone numbers for each letter, different URLs, etc. In time, the extra work will pay serious dividends.

In Conclusion

If you follow even just one of the steps listed above, you’ll start to see increases in your response rates for all of your direct mail pieces. Mail will always be a viable channel in any effective marketer’s tool-kit. Use these tips to maximize your ROI from one of the more notoriously expensive marketing activities.

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Written by Ian

Ian has marketed for some of the world's best-known brands like Hewlett-Packard, Ryder, Force Factor, and CIT Bank. His content has been downloaded 50,000+ times and viewed by over 90% of the Fortune 500. His marketing has been featured in Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Adweek, Business Insider, Seeking Alpha, Tech Crunch, Y Combinator, and Lifehacker. With over 10 startups under his belt, Ian's been described as a serial entrepreneur— a badge he wears with pride. Ian's a published author and musician and when he's not obsessively testing the next marketing idea, he can be found hanging out with family and friends north of Boston.

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Direct mail marketing is a strategy used by marketers to engage prospects and customers offline by sending printed mailers, dimensional packages, perishable items, corporate swag, or other physical items. It is a valuable way to connect with prospects, leads, and clients in a meaningful way.

Aaron Taylor

The general rule of thumb is that the smaller and more targeted your list, the more you can spend per piece. It’s better to make a strong impression to a few than to make a weak impression to many.