A Guide to Direct Mail

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(1) Is DM for you?


(2) Choosing your list

(3) The Offer

(4) Call to Action

(5) The Package

(6) The Copy

(7) Testing

(8) Tracking

History of DM

Does direct mail work?
What are the disadvnatages of direct mail?
What are the advantages of direct mail?
What can you sell with direct mail?
Is direct mail right for you?

Does direct mail work?
If you asked people if they like to get "junk mail", virtually everyone will say "no". It is as American to hate direct mail as it is to love apple pie and baseball. But don't worry - people really don't hate direct mail. How to we know that? Simple. $250,000,000,000 worth of goods and services are sold through direct mail each year in the US alone. And the total is skyrocketing - according to the Direct Marketing Association, it is growing at 8.6% a year, several times more than the growth rate of the economy. And its not just a few people. Last year over half of all American adults ordered something through direct mail.

No, people LOVE direct mail. They like getting stuff in the mail. Sure, 4 out of 5 pieces go straight into the trash - a minor annoyance to them - but when they get something they are really interested in, they like it.

And if you think about it, direct mail is a marvel of the modern age. It allows people to buy goods and services from all over the country, from their own home. That's why a man named Richard W. Sears in the late 1800s realized that if he took his line of pocket watches and combined it with a great mailing list, he no longer even needed a store. It wasn't long after that he created the greatest direct marketing story of all time: Sears Roebuck. It wasn't until the 1930s that sales through Sears stores finally passed their mail order sales.

What are the disadvnatages of direct mail?
But getting that $250,000,000,000 in sales does not come cheap. Direct mail is a very expensive medium. In terms of CPM, the cost of deliverying your message to 1000 people, there are actually few ways to spend more money. Mailers cost between 30 cents each all the way up to several dollars, and over thousands of people, this is a lot of money.

What are the advantages of direct mail?
So what do you, the advertiser get for all this money? Why spend it on direct mail? Why not buy billboards or radio spots or even a sandwich sign and stand on the street corner? There are really a few things about direct mail I want you to keep in your head.

First, direct mail can be precisely targeted. This is important. Think about it: you pick the list you mail to. You in essence pick every single person out who will get your mail piece. They don't pick you. That means you can target a group of people with a highly focused message. The better your targeting, the better your response.

The second huge advantage direct mail offers is tracking. You can carefully measure your results and know exactly what worked and what didn't. With tracking, you not only can evaluate your results, but you can test and refine your message in a way no other medium offers. If you do not do these things when you mail: target carefully and track carefully, then you are wasting a big advantage direct mail offers. But don't worry, we will cover that in more detail later.

Third advantage: Customization. Not only can you target the recipiant, but you can customize the message to them.

Other advantages:
- Fast turnaround time (you don't have to wait months for an ad to appear.
- Highly flexible - you can mail about anything and really creative pieces are works of art and often work very well. Direct mail works well for sending out trial samples of a new product, for instance.
- Response-driven - direct mail allows for the response card or the order form, so you can present your message and ask for action, and have a reasonable expectation of getting it.

What can you sell with direct mail?
What can be sold with direct mail? It would be a disservice to the question to say "Everything". In fact, in the tradional sense of mailing out a direct mail piece which you expect people to open, read, and mail back an order form or call and order, a relatively narrow range of products can be sold.

First off, you need an average size of $20 or more, otherwise, no matter what your response rate is, the cost of the mailer will eat you up. Similarly, there is an upper limit to what people will spend after just reading a mail piece. Opionions vary, but let's use the $5,000 number.

There are exceptions - certainly if I were selling the first commerical tickets to the moon I would probably use direct mail. However, as a rule, that is the price range that works for so-called 1-step mailers, that is, mailers which try to get an order after someone reads a piece.

For more expensive items, the 2 step mailer is used. This is not the 2-step of country western dancing fame. This is a mail piece designed to get leads, not sales. You don't even try to get an order - you just want to fnd out who is interested, so a salesman can call on the prospect. We will discuss 1 and 2 step mailers later in this tape.

Is direct mail right for you? So in conclusion, is direct mail right for you? Can you product or service take advantage of the targeting direct mail offers? And are you selling a product that you could reasobably expect people to order or request more information on through a mailer?

The general rule is that if you can't target, don't use direct mail. For instance, if you make left-handed golf clubs, this is a great item for direct mail. You simply find a mailing list of left-handed people, and remove the women from it. That gives you a list of qualified leads to mail to.