Direct mail tactics for sales: Why physical mail still works, and how to use it

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Contributor, Sell to Win

When you think of new marketing and sales strategies to boost your business in 2020, direct mail probably doesn’t come to mind.

It should, though.

In this article we’ll discuss what direct mail is, why it’s beneficial to both marketing and sales professionals, and how to create a successful direct mail campaign for your company in five simple steps. Let’s get started!

What Is Direct Mail?

Direct mail involves sending letters, postcards, or other physical items to potential buyers and existing customers in order to compel a purchase or other action. 

You know the letters you receive in your mailbox from restaurants, big box stores, and local mom and pop shops advertising new products and sales? That’s direct mail. Both B2C and B2B organizations can find success using this classic marketing and sales strategy.

It’s 2020…Does Direct Mail Still Work?

We live in a digital world. Why would anyone send a physical letter or postcard to a lead when they can send an email, text message, or direct message via social media instead? Is direct mail really worth the time and expense? In short: yes—when used correctly.

Direct mail does still work. In fact, a properly planned and executed direct mail campaign can be extremely beneficial. Here’s why:

1. Direct Mail Is Less Common

Sure, you could send an email to your list or blast your marketing messages across all of your social media platforms. There’s nothing wrong with this strategy and many companies find success with it. But here’s the thing: every other business is doing that too. The average office worker receives 121 emails every single day!

Direct mail gives you a golden opportunity to cut through the noise, reach prospects in a unique way, and engage with them on a more personal level than most digital marketing channels.

2. Direct Mail Is Surprisingly Trackable

Many sales and marketing professionals dismiss direct mail because they think it’s impossible to track. This simply isn’t true. Yes, digital marketing usually offers more precise detail on audience engagement. But with a little forethought, direct mail can be surprisingly insightful.

For example, you could put a unique phone number or web URL on every direct mail piece your company mails out. Then you could track conversion rates by the number of calls and website hits you receive from each of those unique channels.

This is a tactic that Flynn Zaiger, a Strategist at Online Optimism uses. He says:

“If you pay for a cheap, one-time domain for one year, you can then use UTM codes to further track clicks and visits to the domain, which is a significant step forward in tracking the ROI of your Direct Mail campaign.”

If you mailed out 100 letters and received 20 website visits and 12 phone calls, all of which translated into six new sales, you’d have a conversion rate of 6%. Pretty simple, right?

3. Direct Mail Provides Great ROI

Lastly, direct mail provides great ROI to companies who use the strategy effectively. How great? The average direct mail campaign earns a 29% ROI, which is better or equal to most digital marketing channels.

Many marketing and sales professionals are surprised when they hear this. Here are a few more mind-blowing statistics regarding direct mail:

  • The average ratio of email to direct mail that people receive on a daily basis is 36/1.
  • 73% of American consumers prefer to receive direct mail from brands.
  • 90% of direct mail pieces get opened, compared to just 20-30% of emails.

These stats help prove the effectiveness of direct mail. Now the question is, how do you build a successful direct mail campaign for your company? Keep reading to find out!

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How to Create a Successful Direct Mail Campaign

Creating a successful direct mail campaign can be done in five steps, which we’ll walk you through in this section. By the time you get to the end, you’ll be a direct mail ninja, guaranteed!

1. Understand Who Your Target Audience Is

Assuming you’re a salesperson or marketing professional, you’ve probably taken the time to build a detailed buyer persona or two that exemplifies your ideal customer. (Note: if you haven’t done this yet, we suggest doing it right now. We’ll be waiting for you when you get back.)

If you don’t truly understand the people you’re trying to reach, on a deep, intimate level that goes beyond general demographic information, your direct mail campaign will likely fail.

So take the time to really get to know your audience. Talk with your company’s customer success team, interview your top customers, read online forums dedicated to the problems your target market deals with—anything to learn more about your potential customers.

Once you know your audience like the back of your hand, feel free to move on to step two…

2. Build or Update Your Mailing List

You know who to target with your direct mail campaign, but do you know where you can reach them? If not, it’s time to build a mailing list, which can be done in a few different ways:

  1. Buy Addresses: If you’re starting from scratch, you can buy access to direct mail lists in order to target specific groups of people. For example, there are available lists of new homebuyers, new parents, people who have subscribed to certain services, and more. Alternatively, there are lists that only include people who meet specific criteria such as age, occupation, and income level.
  2. Ask Your Customers: If you’re looking to reach your current customers, the easiest way to get their mailing address is to simply ask them for it through email communications or individual conversations. Many people will be understandably hesitant to give up this information, so you might have to offer an incentive to get access to these details.
  3. Target a Specific Zip Code: If you run a local business and sell products or services with wide appeal, you might consider targeting zip codes rather than specific people groups. For example, most people enjoy eating pizza. A direct mail campaign that includes a coupon for 50% off a large pepperoni could find success if it was mailed to every home address in the same zip code as your pizza parlor.

If you already have a mailing list, be sure to update it before you begin mailing. That way you can be sure your target recipients still live at the addresses you have on file. To update your list, view the National Change of Address (NCOA) database.

Pro Tip: Once you begin mailing, you can assess performance—something Caleb Liu of House Simply Sold recommends you do on a regular basis:

“Reassess the performance of your mail campaign every three months or so. Figure out the 20% of addresses that drive 80% of your responses, then increase the marketing budget for this sub-demographic while decreasing underperforming groups.”

Related: Buying a lead list: The pros, the cons, and the things that might land you in jail

3. Design the Perfect Direct Mail Piece

With a firm understanding of your target audience and an up-to-date mailing list in place, it’s time to design the perfect direct mail piece. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Your Offer: Every direct mail campaign needs an offer. What do you want your audience to do once they receive your letter or postcard? And how should they go about doing it? Clearly state what you’re offering—a discount coupon, a free consultation—and then give your audience a way to get it via a phone number, email address, etc.
  • Your Design: The best direct mail pieces generally have a big headline, an eye-catching image, and a complimentary color scheme that pops off the page. We also recommend including your company’s logo to ensure proper branding. If you decide to include a free gift of some kind, make sure it’s well-designed, too. 
  • Your Copy: Good copy is essential to a successful direct mail campaign. Remember to stress theWhile a full copywriting lesson is beyond the scope of this article, we can say this: stress benefits, not the features. Features tell prospects what a product or service does; benefits tell them why it matters. Fill your mailer with benefits and you’ll receive more interest. Other than that, just make sure that all of your copy is clear and easily understood.

Pro Tip: Be sure to proofread your mailers before finalizing the design. A mistyped word will make your company look less professional. A mistyped URL will completely destroy your direct mail campaign and could end up being a very expensive mistake.

4. Send Your Direct Mail Campaign

You’ve worked really hard to design the perfect direct mail pieces; now it’s time to get them printed and send them out! The easiest way to do this is to work with a direct mail company like PostcardMania, Mail Shark, or Modern Postcard. But you can also DIY the process if you want.

Whatever you choose, aim for 14-point cardstock, which is industry standard, and a gloss finish so that your mailer really catches the eye.

You’ll also need to think about postage. This is normally the largest expense when it comes to direct mail, but it can be reduced by mailing in bulk, or by working with a direct mail company that has previously negotiated discounted postage rates. Like anything, prices can vary widely, but plan to spend at least 25 cents to mail each of your direct mail pieces.

Speaking of prices, you’ll want to factor in the cost of follow up direct mail pieces.

“Make sure you have enough budget to hit everyone you’re sending to three times or more,” says Christopher Johnson, Postcard Evangelist at Thanks.io. “A big mistake marketers make is to make one mail drop to 15,000 people when three drops to 5,000 per usually has a better result.”

Pro Tip: Many direct mail companies, including the ones listed above, are equipped to handle the entire direct mail campaign process for you, from list building to mailer design to addressing. For busy professionals, this might be the preferred option.

5. Improve Your Direct Mail Efforts

Now that your direct mail campaign has launched, it’s time to track your results and improve your efforts. How did your campaign do? Did it result in more leads and sales?

Hopefully you included a unique phone number, email address, or URL to better track interest. If so, take a look at the data and analyze the number of clicks/messages/calls you receive, then brainstorm ways to boost your results for future mailings.

For example, if your unique URL gets a lot of hits, but doesn’t result in any sales, perhaps the messaging on your mailer isn’t aligned with the text on your landing page. By better coordinating your messaging, you should be able to improve your ROI.

Your job, once your direct mail campaign is live, is to become a detective. Release your inner Sherlock Holmes and find out how your mailings can be more effective in the future.

Boost Your Business With Direct Mail

In the digital age, direct mail is an underused strategy, which is one of the reasons why it can be so effective for the businesses that invest in it. If you’re looking to stand out from your competitors and improve ROI, a direct mail campaign might be the perfect tactic.

Just be sure to follow the five-step strategy we outlined in this article:

  1. Understand Who Your Target Audience Is
  2. Build or Update Your Mailing List
  3. Design the Perfect Direct Mail Piece
  4. Send Your Direct Mail Campaign
  5. Improve Your Direct Mail Efforts

While it will take time and effort to plan, execute, and optimize your direct mail campaigns, the increase in leads, sales, and revenue will be more than worth it. Good luck!

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