Does Direct Mail Actually Work?

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I put on my sneakers, open the door and walk out into the drizzle. It usually takes me 34 steps to get to my mailbox. I lean against a huge oak tree, and a bunch of cold acorns land right on my head. Ouch!

I pull out a little metal key from my pocket, and reach into the mailbox. No news there – I’m walking back with a whole bunch of junk mail, knowing what exactly is going to the recycling bin straight away.

As I head back into the house, I recall that the Direct Mail Association (DMA) Factbook published the results of its recent research, stating that this year 65% of consumers of all ages purchased a product advertised by direct mail. Furthermore, according to Direct Mail News, in 2012 the average response rate for direct mail reached 4.4% for B2B and B2C mailings, easily surpassing e-mail’s response rate of just 0.12%.

Well, maybe.

My junk mail pile is now on the kitchen table. Temporarily. I can almost feel how each envelope is trying to impress me.

But I am not. In fact, I am on automatic pilot.

There are two piles, one is very small, another one is a mountain-high.

Let’s see, Macy’s new catalog – zip, gone. New distance education courses? Hmm, not this time. Another credit card offer? You must be kidding me, Cardinal Bank. And so most of it goes into the mountainous pile on my table.

Aha, finally, here is some personal mail I want to keep. This is real mail.

But wait a minute, two envelopes grab my attention. On the first one I see a little child suffering from famine. Her eyes are desperate. She needs help. And the message is clear. $19 will give a rabbit to this girl in African village. $35 will provide five little ducks. $75 will bring a nice goat. Everything’s clear. I am interested.

Another one also piqued my curiosity. It is a very unique brown colored envelope with a picture of a moose and forest on the background. I tear it open and see a long letter on a fancy letter. The letter suggests that I need to look into hunting. If I become a member, I get a couple of razor-sharp knives for free and discounts on rifles. Seriously?

Do these people even know that I’m not even remotely interested in hunting? They probably purchased the list from the Western Horseman magazine I got for free with my miles, or something like that.

All these nicely printed letters and offers of cheap rifles fly like rockets into the garbage. So does direct mail actually work?

Yes, it does, if you follow these guidelines:

1. You have to know your customers. Don’t waste your money trying to buy generic lists. Your letters will end up in the trash almost immediately. Talk to experienced consultants specializing in direct mail response. Find out which database will be best for your industry. If you can, start with your own list.

2. Your letter should grab attention, so that your client opens it. The next step, of course, is to make sure that you have a clear message and unique supporting graphics.

3. You need to test various options. Test, test, test. Mark your mail with QR codes or simple numbers to make sure to re-use your winning copy for other campaigns.

Joe Gareht, an experienced fundraising professional and owner of The Fundraising Authority site, suggests to design letters targeted to the three types of recipients, “the 10 second club, the skimmers, and the readers.”

Joe notes that while the first group will throw your mail to the trash in 10 seconds, the second group will hold it for about half a minute, while the readers will hold it for an eternity – 1-2 minutes! The key is to attract your reader by using the best focus areas like the first line, and the P.S. To capitalize on this, make sure that you bold and italicize and use captions.

The final part is easy, ask a concrete amount for a measurable service. Yes, the ducks work great!

What is your trick for direct mail?

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