5 Best Practices for Direct Mail Campaigns

With the increased saturation of digital marketing and the decreasing volume of direct mailing, people are more likely to respond to a well-executed and relevant direct mail campaign. Since I’m interested in all things marketing, I thought it would be helpful to review this new-again marketing technique and explore some best practices. I found some surprising stats, as well as useful parallels to digital marketing.

Isn’t Direct Mail Dead?

Not in the least, according to the Direct Marketing Association 2014 Statistical Fact Book, as quoted by Beasley Direct:

According to a Compu-Mail post on print ad statistics, 73 percent of consumers prefer mail to other ad types; 40 percent will try a new business in response to direct mail; on average, they spend 30 minutes with catalogs and 25 minutes with direct mail; and 48 percent keep direct mail for future reference.

In case you’re ready to disregard all this as biased (since DMA wants to promote direct marketing), a March 2015 Gallup poll on Americans’ feelings about direct marketing showed 46 percent of adults said they’d be likely to have a positive response to a mailed catalog, and 30 percent said the same about a letter from a business. Adding those who are more neutral, the numbers are 70 percent and 64 percent, respectively.

With the above in mind, think about your ads. What percentage of people are happy, or even neutral, about receiving those? How about your newsletter—what’s your open rate?

Direct Mail Best Practices

I’m far from expert on direct mail. That’s why I interviewed direct mail fan and expert, Adobe Campaign UK Sales Director Mathieu Lavedrine (@LavedrineMat ), to get the inside scoop. We had a great conversation about this channel, which I share below with all interested marketers.

MB: What are the main points to consider Mathieu?

ML: The most important thing is to have a clean and up-to-date database, because without that, you have no way of sending your recipients offers and content they will find relevant. After that, you need to have a solid campaign management solution that helps you define your journeys, your audiences, and execute very personalized direct mailings.

MB: What are the best practices for direct marketing (DM)?

ML: It’s hard to cover all these in a short blog post, so I’ll just hit the most important ones and at the highest level:

DM Best Practice #1: Just as in Digital, Targeting and Personalization Are Crucial

If you define narrower segments and send each one a personalized offer, your content is more likely to resonate and generate sales. Use predictive modeling and similar techniques to optimize your campaigns. Then, track response rates and use them to refine your list and keep it up to date. Where possible, use face-to-face and digital interactions to verify and update contact information. As for personalization, it should be more than using the recipient’s name, though that’s certainly important. Personalization should be about connecting with the recipient so he or she sees you and your team as people and ideally assimilate your content as a service. This could simply be adding the address and opening hours of the closest or most frequently used store (based on geo-location and shopping habits) or pointing out the sections of a catalogue where relevant items might be found (based on displayed behavior or declared interest).

DM Best Practice #2: Make DM Part of Your Overall Marketing Campaign

As with digital marketing, a single mailing does not make a campaign. Be prepared to send multiple waves and do A/B testing in order to get the full benefit of your mailing database. Also, integrating DM into your overall marketing efforts builds synergy. Capture email addresses to supplement DM communications with emailed offers, provide coupon codes redeemable online, and use images related or identical to what’s on your website and social media ads to quickly signal to the visitor that they’ve arrived on the right page.

DM Best Practice #3: The Best Calls-to-Action Are Clear, Compelling, Varied, and Repeated

Your DM must include effective calls-to-action (CTAs). These have to be compelling to the recipient (see Best Practice #1 above). Your CTA must clearly tell the recipient what you want him or her to do. Repeat the CTA several times in a visually obvious way, since recipients often skim and may miss this critical element. Using a “P.S.” section and sidebars to briefly reiterate your offer and CTA in brief has a proven track record of improving response rates, as do the old standbys of scarcity and urgency.

DM Best Practice #4: Provide Multiple Ways to Respond

To minimize friction, and accommodate varied preferences, include as many ways as possible for recipients to respond. This means postage-paid postcards, order-form inserts, coupons that can be used in-person and online, phone numbers for placing orders, and as many ways as possible to respond using a mobile phone—QR codes, unique coupon code, URLs that guide recipients to an offer landing page or, being visionary, RFID chips.

DM Best Practice #5: More Information Is Better

Recipients spend more time with physical mail than with digital messages and look at a piece of paper very differently from a screen, so you can provide more information. This is especially important since you’re most likely trying to close a sale rather than just capture contact information. Thus, include all the information needed for the recipient to make the decision you want. Including clear and attractive images is very helpful in supporting that. Remember that your message has to be customer-centric, concentrating on the benefits the recipient will find valuable, such as value, convenience, peace of mind, quality, etc., rather than on your offering’s features. Authentic testimonials are very effective social proofs, especially if accompanied by pictures of the people offering them.

Those are my top five best practice tips, though there are obviously many more than we can cover in a single post.

MB: Thank you for those, Mathieu. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but there’s a lot of overlap between these DM tips and what I promote to our digital marketing clients.

ML: Indeed. After all, these are just different avenues to achieving the same goal—providing enough value for customers to act on our marketing messages.

MB: Thanks again. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ll call on your expertise for my next post, which will concentrate on what a good campaign management tool has to provide to support an effective DM campaign.