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    An insider's secrets to direct marketing success

    With Americans' mailboxes stuffed to the brim with billions of direct mail solicitations each year, direct mail has gotten a bad rap. But for businesses that know how to make direct marketing work for them, direct mail is anything but "junk mail" - it's an effective marketing tool that generates qualified leads and sales.

    Jeffrey Dobkin, direct mail guru and author of the books How to Market a Product for Under $500 and Uncommon Marketing Techniques, offers the following tips for your direct marketing program:

  • Stay in touch with your best customers and prospects. Mail often - as often as every month or so - to your best customers. Send nice letters thanking them for their business. Send post cards on off months. Send notices about your "new longer hours" or additional phone lines you've installed. Invite their feedback with a foldover reply card. Anything - just do it frequently.
  • Create a letter campaign. The most effective direct marketing campaign you can create is a series of personal letters addressed to your 100 best prospects. A letter is an incredibly powerful marketing tool. For a short campaign, write a total of six letters - all up-front - and mail them about two or three weeks apart, with each letter getting progressively harder-selling. Don't make your sales call until after the fourth or fifth letter at the earliest.
  • Use a single line to open your letters. The opening paragraph in your letters should be one line, or two at most. The only function of this line is to create interest and entice the reader to dive into the rest of the package. It's too early to sell anything here - you just want to pull the reader in.
  • Create a newsletter. A newsletter is another good way to stay in front of your customers and prospects. Mail your newsletter monthly if possible, but at least quarterly. Keep your newsletter articles short and punchy - two or three paragraphs is best, four or five at the most, with features running 400-600 words. Aim for 60-70 percent editorial, the rest ads or sales-oriented. Make it enjoyable, crisp, interesting, helpful. If it isn't, it won't get read - and won't get the job done.
  • Offer a FREE instructional or informational booklet. Booklets are easy and cheap to produce. Take two 8 1/2" x 11" sheets of paper and fold them in half - now you have an 8-page booklet. Remember that the value people will perceive in your booklet will first come from its name, so make it sound like it contains crucial information that's a must-have for every customer. Also, try to target your offer to prospects who will be most interested, which will help you write a more focused title.
  • Ask for the order or the call. If you don't get a response, nothing else matters. So don't be shy about asking people to order or call for more information. I once asked for a phone call 16 times in a one-page letter! (Wondering how I did that without sounding obnoxious? Drop me an email and ask for my "16-call printer's letter".)
  • Get your mailing past the secretarial screen. Using effective teaser copy on the envelope is your best bet. I've also had good success with typing my name (not my company name, just my personal name) and my company address on the envelope and having the address typed or imaged directly onto the envelope (no label). Now it looks like a first-class piece of personal correspondence.
  • Test small. Most big mailers test 5,000 names on a list, but smaller budgets demand more prudent testing. I advise my smaller mailers to first mail to just 1,000 to 2,000 names. Just because you had to purchase 5,000 names from a list doesn't mean you have to mail to all of them before testing.
  • Make sure you can track response. What good is a direct mail piece if you can't track the response? An easy way to track telephone responses to your mailing is to simply buy a few packs of index cards and leave a stack next to each phone in your office. Have employees ask every prospect who calls, "And how did you hear of our company?" Write down the answer and keep the cards in a selected drawer. Before long you'll have a pretty good idea of which mailers drew the best response.
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