Few businesses do well without a multi-tiered marketing and advertising plan, and one good tool for your small business arsenal that combines elements of both is direct mail.
This tried-and-true technique, in which a business owner sends a message or an offer directly to a customer or prospective client via mail, can help boost sales or move a product. But you don’t want your sales or service pitch to wind up just another piece of junk mail. What’s a business owner to do?
Before you send out anything, develop a good mailing list. List brokers and direct mail agencies do exist; but if you go this route, be careful to choose reputable ones because the best direct mail piece will fail if it doesn’t reach the mailboxes of the properly targeted recipients. Depending on your goal (bringing in new customers or enticing a regular client for additional business), you likely have an adequate in-house source at your fingertips: your well-maintained customer database. Use it, but only after carefully updating it. Consider augmenting it with other potential customers whose business you’d like to secure by tapping trade and professional groups or incorporating specific demographic constraints to narrow your target audience.
Because successful response to a direct mail campaign may fall somewhere in the .05 percent to 1 percent range, it’s important to use a large enough base of recipients to produce worthwhile results. The more personalized your recipient list (i.e., addressed to a specific person rather than “occupant”) the better your chances of drawing in those customers.
Once your mailing list is firmed up, you can get down to the business of deciding what you’ll actually mail; it could be a postcard, a flier, a letter, a catalog, a brochure, or a free sample. Start a collection of promotions you have received and think are successful and look to those when you embark on your own direct mail campaign.
In general, the most cost-effective piece to mail for many small business budgets is a two-sided color postcard. There is a school of thought that oversized or oddly shaped postcards may draw more attention than the standard 4-inch-by-6-inch, or 5-inch-by-7-inch, but even a basic postcard can get the job done. You can do standard pieces of collateral yourself based on existing direct mail templates; or if your budget allows, you may prefer to hire someone to design something more creative for your business. Online print companies as well as local firms can usually do bulk quantities quickly at reasonable prices. Mailing itself isn’t complicated, though it does require a basic understanding of postal regulations.
Regardless of what format you select, every direct mail piece should include a specific offer and call to action that must be conveyed in a simple, straightforward and easy-to-understand manner. Be hyper-specific on your direct mail piece, and don’t be afraid to reiterate the offer. Before you finalize yours, share it with an independent third party for feedback. Is the offer one you’d be interested in? How can it be more clear, exciting, or provocative? Can you sweeten the offer?
Sending one direct mail piece may not be too effective. That’s why experts often recommend sending multiple mailings with variations on your offer or promotion in a pronged approach. This tactic might introduce the offer and then tweak it with an enhancement on the subsequent mailings. The idea is to get your promotion into the hands of your target on multiple occasions; and a general frequency rule of thumb is hitting the target at least twice, perhaps three times. The problem with a one-time mailer is that it might not hit when your target is ready for it. Multiple mailings increase the likelihood of being top of mind.
On every direct mail piece, it’s a good idea to include a timing element to compel recipients to react by a certain deadline. It’s an added incentive to convince recipients of the value of the product, service, or special offer they will be missing out on if they fail to take action. Additionally, make it easy for recipients to act; include a toll-free phone number, fax number, e-mail address, or payment options.
Invest energy in the mailing list, develop a direct message in a dressed-up format, and let the mail get your campaign rolling. If you incorporate these general strategies into your next direct mail effort, you’re bound to see results.