7 Ways To Improve Direct Mail Response

While print marketing should not be relied upon exclusively in today’s communications world, direct mail campaigns are still an important ingredient in an effective marketing mix.

There are many benefits afforded by this tried-and-true medium:

Personal. Direct mail can address recipients by name; messages can be tailored specifically for them.

Flexible. Mailings can be sent in a variety of formats, such as letters, postcards, brochures and even in 3-D containers that can accommodate product samples or specialty items.

Tangible. Recipients can touch and interact with a mail piece. It can be kept, displayed, shared, circulated and referred to as often as needed. Deliverable. Mail that is sent to a person who is no longer at a particular company or home address is often passed along to a replacement or current occupant.

Refinable. Various components of direct mail can be segmented and tested to find the best list, offer, creative, timing, etc., and the winning combinations can be rolled out to a wider audience for optimal results.

Measurable. The results of a direct mail campaign can easily be tracked by counting the responses or inquiries it generates.

Cost effective. Because it can be targeted and the waste rate is generally easy to manage, direct mail can make advertising dollars go further.

Repetition & consistency. The advantages of a single mail piece can be compounded when the mailing is expanded into a series of mailers or a direct mail campaign. Multiple mailers allow a message to be reinforced or a series of related ideas to be presented; a campaign allows the advertiser to use a cumulative approach to selling. Alternately, sending multiple, single-topic mailers can be a means of promoting an array of products or services, one at a time. A key element of successful direct mail campaigns is repetition, and it is important that the designer be sensitive to the value in leveraging a company’s identity or brand. Generally speaking, logos and tag lines should be displayed consistently among mailers, and other ways of achieving continuity- such as font and color use-ought to be considered as well. Although it is important to be consistent, care should be taken to avoid being boring or predictable within a campaign.

7 Ways to Improve Direct Mail Response

The strategy used in putting together a direct mail campaign can be as important to its success as the design and copy. Details such as the number of pieces in a series, the range and variety of shapes or sizes of the components, the lag time between successive mailers-all of these and more factor in to the response rate. Here are seven success factors that, when properly addressed, will increase direct mail response rates:

1. How many? While there is no set rule for the number of pieces that constitute a good campaign, two or three mailers seems to be a reasonable amount for a short-term program. Some products-such as high-ticket items or goods with a long sales cycle-may lend themselves to a more extended schedule, such as a year-long monthly mailing. Remember that a campaign may only be as strong as its weakest component, so if adding one more mail piece to a series feels like a stretch-or the concept just isn’t flowing-you may have already found the optimal number of pieces.

2. How often? The timing of the arrival of each mailer is probably as important as mailing frequency. In general you will want to space mail drops to be close enough together that preceding mailers will be recalled by the recipient, but not so concentrated or clustered as to become annoying or seem overly extravagant or anxious. In instances where the objective of a campaign is to quickly generate excitement and attention, a succession of mailers sent within a short time frame can be effective. If the mailers are for items or services that are seasonal, clustering during a particular time frame often makes sense. The cost of postage is typically a consideration in determining how often mailings are sent; while first class postage costs more than standard mail, it also takes less time to deliver to recipients, which can impact a project’s timeline.

3. In what order? For some products, a “buildup” approach works best. This may mean messages accumulate to reinforce each other and lead the recipient to a desired action or conclusion. A buildup method might also mean that the campaign itself is designed to crescendo at its conclusion. For example, in a three-part mailing, an initial, simple postcard may be followed by a more elaborate pop-up piece and conclude with an interesting box mailer. This tactic creates anticipation and can generate a spike in response rates as the program moves forward. For other campaigns, a reverse order might make sense, where an especially striking or innovative mailer is sent first and is followed by pieces that serve as reminders or as a means of extending the interplay between the sender and the recipient.

4. Flat or 3-D? The type of mailers deployed in a campaign will be driven in many cases by budget. Three-dimensional mailers and those that feature a lot of special effects can cost more than a simple postcard or flat mailing, but dimensional mailers frequently yield greater results. One consideration in deciding whether to choose a 3-D design format is the target audience. In a typical business setting, some ordinary envelopes might not make it past a secretary, but when a package arrives it could receive special treatment, granting it a greater likelihood to reach a decision maker.

5. How much variety? This too can be a decision that is influenced by budget. A good campaign can be built using a variety of mailer shapes and sizes but is sometimes expensive since print economies-such as printing the program on one run-might not be possible. On the other hand, an effective campaign can be created out of nothing more than a simple series of clever postcard mailers, as evidenced by some examples shown in this article. Some very effective campaigns have also included a multimedia approach: for example, a mailing that drives the recipient to a website or is followed up with an e-mail.

6. Which response mechanisms? Depending on the objective of the mailers, the inclusion of a response device can alternately be unnecessary, a good idea or absolutely essential. If the sender does not want or need to engage in an exchange with the recipient-for example, with a campaign whose only objective is awareness-no sender contact information would be incorporated. On the other hand, multiple response mechanisms are vital in instances such as catalog sales campaigns. In these situations, providing the options of telephone, fax, e-mail, business reply and web contact info is not just logical, it’s crucial.

7. What about a teaser? Some effective mail campaigns have been built around giving incomplete information or only parts of a message initially. Others work by sending half of a gift-such as one glove or a single bookend-with a message indicating that the missing component will be sent in exchange for the recipient completing a certain action. Care should be taken when using this approach to avoid irritating or annoying the prospect.

All U.S. mail must meet these standards:

* Thickness-Not less than 0.007 in. thick.

* Pieces that are 1/4 in. thick or less must be at least 3-1/2 in. high, 5 in. long and rectangular in shape.

* Combined length and girth-Not more than 108 in.

* Parcel Post may not exceed 130 in.

* Weight-Not more than 70 lbs.

Postcard Rate Dimensions:

* Minimum: 3-1/2 in. high by 5 in. long by 0.007 in. thick.

* Maximum: 4-1/4 in. high by 6 in. long by 0.016 in. thick.


Chanie Pritchard is president and CEO of Sage Media Design, a premier commercial graphic design studio based in Ottawa, Canada. With clients running the gamut from individual entrepreneurs to corporate goliaths, Sage provides a highly personalized suite of services: Branding/Rebranding and Corporate Identity materials, Retail Artworking and Product Packaging Design, Publication Layout and Design, Marketing Collateral, Print and Online Advertising, General Design for Print, and of course, Web Des...

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