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Business Resource Center

Direct mail strategies: Tips from a pro

Direct mail is one of those things that's easy to do - but hard to do well. When it is done right, though, direct mail is one of the most effective marketing tools available to small businesses, regardless of the industry.

Following are some hands-on direct mail tips from marketing and direct mail guru Jeffrey Dobkin, author of the books How to Market a Product for Under $500 and Uncommon Marketing Techniques.

  • Research your mailing list. OK, so this is about as much fun as a root canal. And it doesn't impress people like sending them a glitzy four-color brochure. But if additional response is what you're after, the best possible mailing list is what you must strive for, and it's the best place for you to do additional homework.
  • Make sure your direct mail offer is clear. Sounds simple, but people live with their own product for so long that they forget. I've seen lots of packages that I can't figure out what they're selling. Your package should state, "You get this and this, and then get this FREE, when you send only $21.95 to ..."
  • Call now and receive a FREE GIFT! Free gifts work wonders for your response. Offer a FREE premium with any order and watch your response increase.
  • Call now and get our FREE Informational Booklet. Free booklets are low-cost ways to increase response and help you build a mailing list of prospects. An 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper folded in half becomes an Informational Booklet with more perceived value than a company brochure.
  • Decide on your sales approach. There are two distinct direct mail strategies. The goal of direct selling, also called one-step selling, is to sell the product directly. This includes catalogs and hard-hitting direct sell packages designed to sell products from the start. The other strategy, lead generation, is a two-step selling process: show the product, but focus strictly on generating a lead. Pick one strategy for your mailing. (Here's a hint: 95 percent of the product literature packages I write do not try to sell the product directly, but they DO try every trick in the book to make the recipient CALL.)
  • Make it easy to respond - and people will. Use as many response devices as you can: an 800 number, a business reply card, a fax-back form, a reply envelope, an order form, a post card with a live stamp (for small mailings), your email address...
  • Offer a Money-Back Guarantee. Heck, you're going to get your product back anyhow if they don't like it - you might as well be a good guy and say so right up front.
  • Send more than one letter to better prospects. A single letter is not a campaign. Three letters is a campaign. A short campaign, but nevertheless, a campaign. I recommend sending between five and nine letters to any of your higher-quality prospects.
  • Send postcards. I have never created an unsuccessful postcard campaign. Consider using them as a follow-up to your letter campaigns. Postcards are low in cost, easy to mail and they keep you in the customer's mind. They also have a VERY HIGH READERSHIP. Even people like my brother - who tosses out anything that says "bulk mail" before even opening the envelope - read post cards.
  • Don't let your offer get lost in the clutter. Make sure the offer stands out in your package. This is especially true of longer copy packages. If respondents can't find your offer - and price - when they're ready to buy, they'll probably just toss your package out and buy somewhere else.
  • Repeat your offer, price and guarantee on your order card. Knowledgeable direct mail buyers know that when they want to cut through the clutter, they can go right to the order card for an immediate synopsis of what they will get and what it costs. Repeating your offer also helps when your order form gets separated from the rest of your package. Customers will still be able to make the purchase right from the card.
  • Use teaser copy on the envelope that's bound to work. My very favorite line: "Gift Certificate Enclosed." Gift certificates are cheap to print, add little weight to your package, have high perceived value, can be directed at overstocked merchandise, and don't cost anything until they're redeemed. Nice.
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