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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

You've Got Mail: 4 Tips on Using Direct Mail for Business

image for Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock
Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock
  • Unlike email marketing, which usually competes with dozens of other emails in a day, direct mailers are usually one of just a handful of pieces in a mailbox.
  • Through a direct mailing company or list broker, you can tailor your address list to send your marketing materials to only the individuals or businesses that fit your target demographic.
  • Along with printing and sending your mailers, a good company will help you design eye-catching promotional material.

In an age where the internet allows us to instantly communicate with anyone on the globe, the concept of relying on the United States Postal Service (USPS) to deliver your small business's marketing may sound counterintuitive. But for countless small businesses, direct mail marketing not only gets the message across, but regularly brings in new customers.

Direct mail is a type of marketing service that can help you design and ship postcards, brochures, and other printed items straight to the mailboxes of hundreds or even thousands of existing and potential customers. Whether your small business caters to individual consumers or other businesses, direct mailing can help you maximize the return on your advertising budget by focusing on the addresses that are most likely to respond to your message.

"Direct mail creates a one-on-one connection that's hard for other media channels to match," said Tom Foti, executive director of product management for the USPS. "It lets you incorporate coupons, reply cards, mobile barcodes such as QR codes, URLs and other response mechanisms ... direct mail is a workhorse for generating leads, traffic and sales."

Considering that most direct mailing services handle every aspect of a campaign from design to shipping, there are many things to remember when starting out. To get a better idea of some of the best practices involved in direct mail, Business News Daily reached out to experts to get their insights on how you can get the most bang for your buck out of a direct mailing campaign.

 

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A direct mailing campaign can only be successful if the address data lines up with the type of customer you want to draw in. More than 187 million pieces of first-class mail pass through the USPS each day, so you need a solid mailing list to make sure your direct mailers go to the right places.

Sometimes, small businesses will simply get appropriate addresses from their customer data. While that method will save money in the long run, not every direct mailing campaign should draw on an existing customer base – many times you want to bring in new faces. If that's the case, you'll likely either get your list directly from your direct mailing provider or obtain one through a list broker.

In either case, you're usually able to pinpoint exactly which houses or businesses you want to target with your direct mailers by selecting specific criteria, such as household income, recently engaged couples or businesses owned by minorities. You can also specify an area to target, such as by designating specific zones or setting a radius.

According to Milena Marguenski, owner of US Presort, most businesses will want to create a "best customer profile" that helps them visualize exactly who they want to target.

"Some businesses want to target customers with very high incomes, while others want the opposite," she said. "Your demographic selection strictly depends on your type of business. What's important is that the more targeted the list, the higher the results." [Check out our best picks for direct mailing services on our sister site, business.com.]

When it comes to direct mail marketing, you're already reaching a somewhat captive audience. They have to retrieve their mail eventually, so your materials are likely to be read by someone. It's also pretty helpful that Americans still enjoy checking the mail, according to a 2015 Gallup poll. Since you already have an in with a customer once your mailer is in their home, it's important that you make a good impression once your mailer gets there.

It makes sense that a well-designed mailer will work better than an uninteresting one. It should have clean, easy-to-read fonts and relevant graphics that aren't so flashy that they draw attention away from the information you're trying to convey. You should also make sure your copy is devoid of misspellings or grammatical errors, since those will stick out. Focus on the highest return on investment over the lowest cost, and don't try to fool your customers by saying a piece is "urgent" when it's not, Foti advised.

"Any package or interactive mail piece will always perform better than a simple postcard," Marguenski added. "Besides the pure aesthetic, your design has to follow postal rules if you don't want to pay extra for irregular sizes or pieces that don't comply with postal regulations."

Most direct mail services have an in-house design team to help you create the most effective mailers to match your specifications. Usually these services are rolled into your costs, though more customized services may require additional costs. It's important not to skimp on this part of the equation, since receiving your mailer will often be the first interaction a potential customer has with your brand.

People are mostly transactional by nature. With that in mind, you should make sure your direct mailers have a strong call to action, or a reason to buy or use your goods or services. That can be as easy as offering a promotion to new customers, like a percentage off a purchase if they bring the mailer into the store.

According to the folks at PrintingForLess.com, our overall best pick for direct mailing services, your call to action can be the difference between an interested customer and a fast track to the recycling bin.

"Don't expect much response if you're only offering $1 off your next purchase of $100 or more," they wrote. "Make the offer as attractive as you can while still being profitable. You may need to experiment to get the optimum balance between response rate and profit margin." [Read related article: Small Business Guide to Direct Mail]

Even though direct mail isn't a digital service, you can still extract meaningful data from your campaign. Many direct mail vendors have built-in methods to track the return on investment for your direct mailing campaign.

While you will want as high a return as possible, remember that an effective direct mail campaign simply gets consumers through the door. Each campaign is different, but researchers found that direct mail typically has a 4.4% response rate versus email's 0.12% response rate.

It may seem like a 95.6% failure rate is abysmal, but many factors can cause a person to respond to your mailer. The important thing to do in this instance is to remember to follow up on your campaign.

"Not everyone is going to buy from you just because you send them a postcard," said Shawn Breyer, owner of Breyer Home Buyers. "Most people won't be ready to buy your product or services, or they will just be too busy to check it out."

When drawing up a direct mailing campaign, Breyer said, most businesses should establish a "monthly marketing plan for at least six months." Your follow-up could catch the customers you didn't get the first time.

Additional reporting by Sammi Caramela and Chad Brooks. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Andrew Martins

Andrew Martins is an award-winning journalist with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Ramapo College of New Jersey. Before joining business.com and Business News Daily, he wrote for a regional publication and served as the managing editor for six weekly papers that spanned four counties. Currently, he is responsible for reviewing tax software and online fax services. He is a New Jersey native and a first-generation Portuguese American, and he has a penchant for the nerdy.