Direct Mail: Dinosaur or Dynamo?

By Robyn M. Sachs
President, RMR & Associates, Inc.

Now that businesspersons and consumers alike are comfortable going to the Web for their news and information, what’s become of true direct mail? Should companies still send it? Do people still read it? Are companies who use it as part of their marketing campaigns viewed as savvy marketers or out-of-step dinosaurs?

Alternatively, are direct email campaigns an acceptable form of marketing or are they quickly deleted as spam?

Direct mail is alive and well. Nothing can replace being able to hold a direct mail piece in your hands, to touch it, tack it up on a board, pull it down and look at it again. Done well, direct mail gives recipients the impression of a solid company with the financial footing to invest in a sophisticated advertising piece or, hopefully, a full campaign. To a certain degree, there is a negative perception of direct email, especially when compared to direct mail, because Internet scams often use the lower cost method of email versus preparing solid, physical direct mail pieces. In short, don’t expect direct mail to become museum relics any time soon.

Direct email is gaining in acceptance. Email campaigns are no longer automatically deleted by spam filters or subjected manually to the “recycle bin.” Executives, managers, and owners are becoming accustomed to being contacted this way. While some still see it as an unwelcome intrusion, even the hardcore deleters are coming around. For speed, ease of preparation, quick updates, and the relatively low cost for its wide reach, email marketing is hard to beat.

First: The List. What has long been true for direct mail also holds true for direct email: The list you mail or email to is the most important and vital part of your campaign. If your target audience list is inaccurate or outdated, no offer or amount of creativity will sell your product or service. Book publishers don’t need playground swings any more than plumbers’ associations need golf carts. So invest in obtaining a viable list of contacts.

Second: The Offer. Next in importance is what you’re giving away. What incentive does your reader have to take action now? What will they get “free,” or “for a 30 day trial” or “for a limited time only”?

Third: The “dynamo” is up to you. With a viable list and a solid offer, you now need ways to get your message noticed. Here are some tried-and-true ways to do that:

  • Get your reader’s attention. Headlines and lead paragraphs in your email, card, or brochure should immediately convey information that will interest the reader: sell its use, value, and benefits, benefits, benefits.
  • Tell readers what’s in it for them. What will they gain by replying? More time, more money, peace of mind, and solutions are hot buttons they want to hear about. What will they lose by not replying? Time, money, peace of mind, and the opportunity to solve their problems.
  • Help them visualize your message. In direct mail, you can more easily show them what you want to convey. If you’re selling intangibles (e.g., time or peace of mind), it’s a little trickier. This is where your creative team will be invaluable to you. They should have the expertise to create your visual impression without being corny or trite. For example, an hourglass is a universally understood image representing time, but it’s been overused and seems out-of-date. Your message should surprise your reader with the unexpected, while still being easily understood and memorable.
  • Tell the reader what to do. Call now. Order today. Complete and return the attached reply card. Or, if you’ll be following up the mailing yourself, tell the reader to expect the follow-up and when to look for it.
  • Provide enough information for your call to action. If you want the reader to place an order, your copy must be clear and complete. If you want them to request a demo, your message can be incomplete and intriguing, as long as they understand how to request the demo. Return the reply card? Call by a certain date? Be one of the first 100 to respond? Make it clear what you want them to do, and make it easy for them to do it.
  • Results are all that really count. Creativity may pull them in. But in the end, if it doesn’t sell, who cares if it was creative? The purpose of your mailing/emailing is to sell your product or service. If your materials aren’t creating sales for you, find out why. Is your list accurate and right for what you’re selling? Is your offer good enough to get people to take action? Then examine your message. No matter how creative it is, if it’s not bringing in sales, it’s not the right message for you.