Right message, right person, right time...

“Mailshots don’t work” – is a phrase I have become accustomed to hearing when discussing marketing tactics with businesses.  Indeed, when I enquire further, I am offered tales of how hundreds and sometimes, thousands of letters, invitations, newsletters and all matter of communications – have been sent out using up significant resource (both time and money) and yet yielding not a single response.  Even in the age where ‘emarketing’ has seen rapid growth, direct mail is still a serious tactic – with direct mail increasing by 130% over the past 12 years – it is estimated that Consumer Direct Mail now generates £26.283 billion worth of business every year.  

To get the most out of direct mail requires a combination of skills: 1) a clear understanding of the purpose of the mailing; 2) accurate and relevant targeting; and 3) an interesting execution that involves the reader and creates a response.  To put it simply, the most successful campaigns are those that put the right message in front of the right person at the right time.

So let’s take a look at the winning combination: Right message, right person and the right time.

Right Person

Targeting is the first step in any direct mail campaign.  Question your motives: who are you trying to attract?  Who do you want your mailer to reach?  Targeting is not easy – ideally you have to have some knowledge of your audience, in order to be able to target effectively.

A great start to targeting is utilising existing customer information.  Such information should enable you to identify the potential to sell more services to them, or to generate profiles of who the best prospects will be.

Of course, when approaching the cold market, there is also the option to purchase marketing lists – where you have the ability to drill down to specific information – such as turnover, size of business, number of years in business, number of employees, demo and geographics etc – however, you still have to establish the ‘profile’ of who you are looking for – based from your own knowledge, which is likely to be gleaned from experiences with your own customers. 

Right Message

There are many tactics and ideas for making your direct mail piece ‘stand out’.   And indeed some businesses spend enormous amounts of money on their direct mail – and go to extreme lengths to ‘make an impact’ – sending chocolates, lollies, cakes and all matter of goodies as part of their direct mail campaigns. 

It’s worth remembering that what customers are really looking for is relevance – they are far more likely to respond to a mailing which has an offer they are interested in, than to one which has a great design or gimmick, but is of no relevance to them.

Indeed, it’s easy to get carried away with the ‘attention catching gimmicks’ – this is the fun stuff.   And whilst the ‘whacky’ designs may catch attention – what all direct mail experts agree on is the importance of ‘the sales letter’.

Experts agree that in writing the sales letter the key is to ‘plan ahead’.  And 90% of the thinking should happen before those eager fingers start tapping at the keypad.

The focus of the letter is to win new business.  Some key tips to follow when crafting your letter:

  • Be yourself – personalise the letter as much as you can and demonstrate a sound knowledge of your audience’s business dynamics and a clear understanding of the obstacles they face.  If the reader believes you have empathy with their situation – they are far more likely to continue reading.
  • Don’t talk too much about yourself – readers are interested in what you can do for them – not what you do.  Focus on the opportunities your products and services present for them.
  • Use the words ‘you’ and ‘your’ as much as possible and minimise the ‘we’s’.  This will warm up your letter considerably.
  • Use sub-heads, bullet points and highlighted or bold text to convey key points.
  • Be very direct about your offer – and get the value proposition or the offer in quick.  If you can save them £500 immediately – then tell them this in the headline.  And of course, repeat the offer again, half way through the letter – don’t let them miss the opportunity.
  • Make it easy for people to buy – have clear instruction of how to take advantage of the offer; ‘simply phone Jack on ….’, ‘simply send back the enclosed prepaid response card’.
  • Be sure to keep your response mechanisms simple and provide a few response options.  Don’t stipulate that orders must be done ‘online’ – as that may present an obstruction to buy. 

Right Time

A key aspect to Direct Mail is ‘timing’.  It’s very difficult to know exactly when your target customer is ‘ready to buy’.  Of course, there may be some seasonal opportunities which determine an opportune ‘direct mail’ time – and so consider this when planning.  But that still doesn’t provide any guarantees.

Timing is exactly why ‘one hit wonders’ are extremely rare – if evident at all.  More often than not – deciding ‘when to mail’ is more of a case of what you can internally manage and resource.

And that’s fine – provided that you don’t plan on doing mailers in ‘isolation’.  By this I mean – that you do not attempt to attain the elusive ‘one hit wonder’ – but instead plan a Direct Mail Campaign – or an integrated marketing campaign of which direct mail is one component.

Regular communication is the only solution to the ‘right time’ problem.  Even with sophisticated consumer behaviourial profiling, knowing just ‘when’ a customer is ready to buy – requires skills beyond the realms of our 5 senses.  

Even if your offer is amazingly compelling – for many of the people you mail, it may simply be a case that now is just not the right time for them.  However, 6 months down the line – it may be the perfect time for them.  And so – regular communication allows you to build ‘share of mind’, loyalty, and eventually ‘hit the mark’.

Let’s think about it this way.  Research in ‘sales activity’ tells us that the optimum number of times you need to ask the customer to buy in order to gain a positive result is 7.   And of course, your direct mail piece is effectively a ‘remote sales man’ trying to win over your chosen target.  This tells us that regular communication is necessary to achieve the end objective.  It’s a bit of a numbers game (which Capital One by the level of the direct mail activity must know all about!). Learn from your activity

The bottom line exists – and so you need to measure success.  Did the campaign fulfill its objectives; achieve the desired results, all within the set budget?   

The key to ongoing successful campaigns is that of monitoring responses.  Like many things in life – the more you do it – the better you get at it.  The same applies to Direct Mail. 

Over time you’ll learn which targets respond to which messages and of course, you’ll be able to monitor any particular ‘response’ patterns too – giving you a valuable insight into the ‘Right Time’.

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