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The Keys to Successful Direct Mail

Whether it’s called direct mail, direct marketing, or mail marketing, the use of database marketing and the U.S. Postal Service can be a cost-effective way to find new customers. One major caution though, direct mail without proper preparation and a solid follow-up process may not only fail, it can be very costly.

If your printing, or related graphic arts company is like most, your customers may be scattered all over specific region or a an area no bigger than a single zip code. If you are a larger, more specialized firm, your customers may be spread across the nation. Identifying and locating new prospects and converting them into customers cannot always be done efficiently with a sales force alone. This is where a well planned, creative, and sustained mail marketing program can be very successful.

The first thing to do before considering the use of direct mail is to determine whether the markets and/or industries your company serves will respond to mail marketing. If the answer is yes, then you must identify the prospect’s “hot buttons”. In other words, what will get their attention and cause a response. This is where the creative aspects of direct marketing meet the science of direct mail. I have seen many perfectly executed direct mail campaigns fail because they lacked a creative, attention getting hook.

The next step in preparation is developing a proprietary database filled with prescreened prospects that desire the products and services your company provides. The reason for a proprietary database is that you are not likely to find and purchase a list meeting your market’s profiles. If you could, then any competitor could buy it as well.

The other reason for a proprietary database is that it affords you the opportunity to develop the quality of information in the prospect listing or record. It also gives you the control to add, delete, and segment with market codes, every prospect. This helps control costs and allows for the tracking of which markets and/or prospect types are or are not responding. The tracking of response patterns is very useful in directing future direct mail campaigns.

Although the development of a proprietary database with pre-screened and effectively segmented prospects is initially quite time consuming, it is well worth the investment if done properly. Once the list is developed, it must also be updated and maintained in a disciplined manner.

A diligent maintenance program will turn your list into a “living and breathing” marketing tool. Not only for the purpose of mailing use, but also to provide a wealth of customer and prospect data that can direct and improve the results of all of your marketing and sales efforts. This data, when properly collected and analyzed, should lead to an increase of marketing activity in some segments and/or the reduction in others. This type of adjustment will control expenses and increase the cost justification of your marketing investments.

The next area of preparation is determining what you will offer as an incentive for the prospects to respond. Direct mail is much more effective if an incentive of real or perceived value is offered to respondents. Probably the most effective incentive is free education. This may be in the form of an educational newsletter or other publication, which gives the prospect greater insight, or increased knowledge of the business they are in. The direct mail piece’s design will need to incorporate images and information on the incentive offered.

Never overlook the importance of the creative element in direct mail. As I said earlier, I have seen many well executed campaigns fail because of the lack of attention getting, creative design. My strongest suggestion for design development is to turn to a creative design firm with direct mail experience. You should always manage your own database, but when it comes to high-response direct mail, turn to a creative professional.

Second only to the process of managing your database, is the discipline of marketing follow-up. Direct mail without a defined and assigned follow-up system is a wasted investment. The follow-up system should begin with the collection of all response information. Every response, whether by phone, 800 number, a coupon printed on a postcard, or website visit should be tracked and recorded. This information is critical in determining which direct mail piece, market segment, or prospect type is obtaining the greatest response.

Testing various pieces is critical. Postcards, brochures and catalogs could yield significantly different results. Testing the alternatives can be very cost effective given the availability of low cost color offset printing products.

The next step in the follow-up process is the fulfillment of the incentive request, if offered, in the direct mail piece. The incentive and a well written sales letter maybe accompanied with a color catalog should be sent within three to five days of receiving the initial response. After sending the incentive and letter, prospect should be contacted by an inside or telemarketing sales person within five days.

During the follow-up call, the prospect should be qualified based on the need for the products and services your company provides. You should also verify all the contact information, determine the buying potential of the prospect, and assign a grade A, B, C or D. Your database should then be updated with the new information collected and the prospect identified as qualified or not. If not qualified the lead may then be assigned to a sales representative to follow-up.

All qualified leads assigned to sales should be followed up with three to five days of assignment. Follow-up priority should be based in the qualified lead’s grading. Sales activity should include obtaining an appointment, learning what the prospect’s needs and wants are, and educating the prospect about what your company can do to fulfill their needs.

The follow-up process is then completed through the development of the prospect and conversion into a customer, who may very well receive your monthly catalog of postcards featuring special offers etc. All quote and sales dollars of both prospects and new customers should be tracked in order to complete a cost justification analysis. Finally, this analysis will be used to determine the sales and profit dollars returned by new customers, and measure the ultimate success of your marketing investment.

Direct mail is not easy. If it were, everyone would do it. Like so many of the tools in the marketing arsenal, it is the disciplines of preparation, execution, and follow-up that determines success. One thing is for sure, direct mail can be a cost-effective way to find new customers – however, success is dependent upon your determination in following these disciplines.

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