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Direct Mail Basics

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Any direct mail program starts with two basic components — a message and an audience. What are you trying to say and to whom are you saying it?

First the audience. Who are you trying to reach? What common traits and characteristics does the audience share? For example, paint companies looking for new customers could reach all the painting contractors in Brooklyn by sending a direct mailer to every address in New York City, but they would waste postage on a lot of unqualified prospects. Targeted direct mail, on the other hand — both postal and electronic — reaches a more select audience and a more receptive reader.

Would it help to have a list of names and addresses of companies that ordered supplies and equipment from the largest retail paint store in Brooklyn? How about access to a list of people who expressed interest in new painting products and also asked to look at new information about those products?

Lots of mailing list providers sell both prepackaged and specially developed lists that answer these types of questions. Mailing list providers also sell lists with demographics tailored to the target audience you want to reach. But make sure your list is qualified. Read How Do You Determine How Qualified a Mailing List Is? for questions to ask.

Crafting the Content

What is the message that you want to send to your targeted mailing list? Every message is different, but effective direct mail copy contains a few universal elements.

It's as simple as D-I-R-E-C-T:

D. Direct. Get to the point, and don't waste the reader's time. Tell the most important message first. Read How To Write Good Direct Mail for tips.

I. Insight. Do your homework, and know your audience. Don't try to sell denture cream to teenagers or peddle tractors to urbanites.

R. Respect. Be respectful in tone and content. Don't insult or intimidate the reader.

E. Educate. Be informative. Share knowledge and communicate value.

C. Creative. Use graphics, photos, and colors to highlight your message in printed material. Online, stick with simple text that transmits easily, and avoid bandwidth-hogging images or exotic typefaces.

T. Think ahead. Anticipate the reader's questions and answer them in your message.

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