Top companies are flocking back to direct mail, the oldest “new” channel in the marketer’s toolkit. But what many don’t realize is a little insight into the unique elements of this format can mean the difference between a high-converting success and a pile of junk mail. In this article, the second in a three-part series, marketing expert Adelyn Zhou shares some of the tactical wisdom she’s gained at companies like Nextdoor, Eventbrite, and Amazon. Follow her on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Direct mail is part science, part art—there is no single best solution. Innovative technologies allow us to customize mail in new ways, and the USPS continually changes rates (usually raising them) and rules. However, a couple of things stay constant: Any direct mail campaign will include the four key components of list, offer, creative, and delivery. And at every stage, consistently A/B testing what you send and who you send it to will improve recipient response and lower your costs.
Let’s take a closer look at the four main components of direct mail:
- The list: You need to mail the right audience, who are interested in your product.
- The offer: You need to provide the right offer to motivate them to action.
- The creative: You need to have engaging creative that gets seen, not tossed.
- The delivery: You need to get that creative into mailboxes.
1. The List
There are two types of lists, house lists and rental lists. House lists are ones that you own, which generally include existing customers and potential leads (e.g., people who signed up for a white paper online). Rental lists are compiled addresses from third-party vendors. They are typically one-time buys or subscriptions, and allow you to select certain audience segments. The average cost for a rental list ranges from $50–250 per thousand records, depending on the quantity purchased and criteria selected.
A well-targeted list is important. If you’re selling infant products to retired folks, no matter how good the offer is, none of them will buy (unless of course they’re shopping for their grandchildren). A clean list with deliverable addresses is also key. If the list is old, then you will send undeliverable mail—never seen by a potential customer—which is a waste of your time and money.
2. The Offer
An offer is the incentive that the recipient will receive, and what they have to do to receive it. It’s the call to action that motivates the prospect. A great offer is valuable, tangible, unique, and clearly related to the company offering it. It should also be straightforward and easy to understand. Avoid lots of fine print. No one likes to read that.
For example, your direct mail might include an offer for:
- Free trial
- Free gift
- Free shipping
- Dollar discount
- Percentage-off discount
- Buy one, get one free
- White papers
- Case studies
Be sure to test your offers to learn what best motivates your audience. And remember, the offer isn’t merely enticement for the consumer—it’s also a great way to include a custom code or URL in your creative to help track your campaign’s results.
3. The Creative
Test multiple designs and layouts, as there is no one approach that works for every campaign. A fancy letter may perform well for a high-end business product, while a simple postcard in a “handwritten” font may work best for a casual neighborhood service. Regardless of the creative, be sure that your call to action is clear and direct.
On the format side, there are endless options to choose from. However, sticking with the standard ones will typically save you time and money in production and mailing. The two most common formats are letters and postcards. Contact your mailing vendor or print house for their standard sizes.
4. The Delivery
Most companies spend more than they need to on postage, but there are multiple ways to lower your costs: For example, cleaning your list and adding USPS address bar codes will get you lower rates, as will sending more pieces to smaller areas (“saturation mail”). You can also earn discounts by shipping your mail closer to its final destination (e.g., dropping mail designated for San Francisco at a nearby Oakland postal center). Finding the optimal mailing strategy can save you 20–50% on postage costs.
However, because all of this can be difficult to coordinate, many companies use a mail consultant or service for a seamless mailing solution. After all, the biggest way to lower the cost of a direct mail campaign is to save your and your employees’ time. Lob, for example, takes care of printing, mailing, and postage for a single straightforward price—so you can send print mail on demand, as easily as you’d send an email. Lob even tracks mail at every step, so you know when your campaign lands in mailboxes.
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