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Why letters are making a comeback. And how to design a winning Direct Mail campaign.

Email is the world’s cheapest and most widely used marketing channel. Once considered a ‘progressive’ strategy, you no longer need to be a seasoned marketer or tech-expert to send an email newsletter.

Plenty of idiots do it every day.

I am not suggesting that email is an easy medium to nail. My inbox is flooded with ineffective broadcast emails every week. But that’s part of the problem. The medium is now so overused and abused that it lacks credibility and cut-through – particularly when prospecting for new business.

It’s no surprise then, that the ‘letter’ is making a comeback.

Remember them? With the stamps? And envelopes?

How often do you receive an actual paper letter these days? It’s exciting isn’t it? And flattering. Because someone has gone to THIS MUCH effort to get your attention.

Since July this year, I have written more letters for my clients than I have in the rest of my 10 year copywriting career. The financial outlay for a Direct Mail (DM) campaign is significantly higher than it is for an email campaign. Yet so is the response rate.

That said, successful communication is not just about choosing the right medium. It’s also about the message. The offer. The list. And more.

Let’s explore the essential ingredients for a winning DM campaign.

1. The Offer

Sending a letter to inform your prospects about your new business, product or service is very nice. But it won’t get results.

Your prospects need a good reason to act. A reason to respond to you ‘right now’. Otherwise your letter will find a nice comfy home at the bottom of an in-tray. (And that’s the best case scenario.)

Always remember: the number one goal of your letter is to entice action. And the best way to do that is to present a compelling, short-term offer – such as a competition, a discount, a gift-with-purchase or a bundled offering.

When deciding on your offer, ensure that it’s:

  • Relevant and attractive to your audience 
    Don’t offer a tacky meal voucher to a group of senior executives.
  • In-line with your brand image 
    Don’t offer a price cut if you’re promoting a high-end, premium product.
  • Obviously connected to your product or service
    Don’t offer a ‘free pet groom’ if you’re selling life insurance. Say what?
  • Of true value to your audience
    Don’t offer a ‘free financial health check worth $250’ if you ordinarily provide these at no cost, as part of your everyday sales strategy.

2. The Timing

Time your campaign wisely. If you know your target market well, this should be easy. Think about the industry’s buying and decision-making cycle. And consider when your prospects are most likely to be considering a purchase of your product or service.

For example, a ‘corporate gifts’ offer will get a stronger response in the lead up to Christmas (say September/October) than it would in February or June.

Also think carefully about the cut-off date for your offer. Try to tie it in with a date or event that’s already in their minds. Such as 30 June. Good Friday. Or Melbourne Cup Day.

3. The List

As with email, existing customers will always respond more favourably to your DM campaign than people unfamiliar with your business. They already know you. They understand your business. And hopefully, they’ve already had a positive experience with your brand.

With existing customers, you can cut to the chase with your offer – without having to establish credibility first.

But if the objective of your DM campaign is new business acquisition, then you need to get your hands on a quality database of profiled prospects.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • List banks (companies that sell and rent lists)
    You need a very clear picture of who you’re targeting – such as industry sector, business type, business size and job title.
  • Trade shows and other marketing events
    Take advantage of existing marketing activities by qualifying leads and gathering contact information.
  • Existing prospects
    Be sure to capture contact details of people who have shown interest in your product or service, but haven’t yet become a customer.

4. The Written Message

For most people, writing the letter is the scariest part of the job. That’s why many engage professional copywriters to do it for them.

But if you don’t have the budget to outsource, here are some helpful guidelines.

  • Keep it simple: Use simple words, short sentences – and avoid jargon.
  • Make it personal: Use the word ‘you’. Often. And address the reader by name. Avoid ‘Sir/Madam’ – and rubbish like ‘To whom it may concern’.
  • Get immediate attention: Begin the letter with a bold headline. There’s no need to start the headline with ‘RE:’.
  • Make it scanable: Use subheadings, bullets and short paragraphs to help the reader scanner pick out key points.
  • Be clear: Be specific in your offer and response instructions. And repeat them.
  • Make it credible: Avoid generic signatories such as ‘The Sales Team’. Your prospects deserve an actual name.
  • Include a useful P.S. It will get read.

5. Response Options

Make it as easy as possible for your audience to respond by giving multiple options. At least two. Ideally three.

The more options you give, the higher the response rate. Here are some options:

  • Phone: Preferably a 1800 or 1300 number.
  • Email: Avoid generic email addresses such as ‘[email protected]’ or ‘[email protected]’. A specific person’s email address engenders more credibility.
  • Website landing page: You can direct your prospects to a campaign-specific landing page on your website. Your landing page will repeat the offer – perhaps in more detail – and include an online form for people to complete.
  • Coupon: It may seem old-fashioned, but coupons work. A coupon instantly tells your audience that a response is expected of them. Be sure to include a reply paid envelope.

6. Follow-up

Finally, you need to determine your follow-up strategy. Then ensure you have the resources in place to support it.

Will you contact recipients via phone or email a week after the letter arrives? Or will you send a second letter to remind recipients of the offer as the close date approaches?

Now it’s over to you. Good luck with your next DM campaign – and please keep me ‘posted’ along the way.