The Number One Mistake Marketers Make With Direct Mail (It’s Not What You Think)

1With all of the press around the notion of direct mail being “dead,” you might think that the biggest mistake that marketers make with direct mail is actually doing it in the first place. After all, email, mobile, and social media marketing are the “cool kids” on the marketing block right now, and direct mail seems positively quaint.

The fact is, direct mail is alive and well, and still boasts the highest response rate (estimates range from 2 percent to 6 percent per mailing) of any marketing tactic. However, many marketers make the same mistake in direct mail that they do in other forms of marketing, a mistake that torpedoes their results and negatively affects their brand. That mistake? Not putting the customers first, and making it easy for them to respond the way you want them to.

The First Rule of Marketing: Know Your Customer

Anyone who has studied even just the fundamental of marketing understands that the first rule of any type of marketing is to know your customer. This means not only targeting your demographic (such as age group, gender, household income) but also understanding what that demographic wants and needs from you. The most effective marketing campaigns are those targeted toward meeting a specific need or solving a particular problem for your target demographic. Campaigns that make someone stop and say, “Hey, you know, I do have that problem, and this looks like the perfect solution!” are much more effective than campaigns that try to be all things to all people.

2The problem with many direct mail campaigns, though, is that the marketer focuses more on demographics and less on needs. They are so focused on reaching as many eyeballs as possible with their pieces that they fail to recognize that not every household in the ZIP code is going to have a need for orthodontic care, or that not every woman of childbearing age is interested in children’s toys. Compounding the problem is that many direct mail pieces are confusing, vague, or pointless, without a clear call to action or value. The result, then, is recycling bins full of junk mail and companies left scratching their heads, wondering why their expensive campaign didn’t work out.

“Why Did They Send Me This?” (and Other Burning Questions)

Almost everyone has received a piece of mail at one point or another and thought, “How on Earth did I get on this list?” Sometimes, the piece is so wildly off topic that it’s almost comical (the 20-something receiving a flyer for a retirement home, for example) but usually it’s more baffling — and wasteful for the person sending it. In some cases, the mistake is easily explainable; for example, perhaps you once ordered a gift for someone from a specialty website, which then sold your information to other related businesses. Those are difficult to avoid, and the only way to avoid getting such mailings is to opt-out.

However, not all seemingly random pieces of mail are so easily explained. Often, the reason is simply that the marketer hasn’t done their homework. And even if you do know exactly who to mail your piece to, if you don’t have a clear, compelling, call-to-action, it’s probably still not going to work.

Avoid the “What were they thinking?” and “What am I supposed to do with this?” questions, by asking these questions before you put a single piece into the mail:

  • Who am I trying to reach? What is my ideal customer profile? (Note: this is different from a demographic. Give your customer a name, create a persona. You might be surprised that your assumptions haven’t been accurate.)
  • What are the benefits of my product? After reading this piece, will my customers know how we can make their lives better, or will they just know more about my product?
  • Does this piece look good? Would I respond to this piece? Can I be more creative?
  • What am I offering? Is that what my customer wants or needs?
  • Why should someone respond to this piece? Can they get that from a quick glance?
  • What do I want prospects to do when they read this? Have I asked them to do that?
  • Is it easy to respond? Have we created unnecessary barriers to a response?

Asking these questions before you send a direct mail piece allows you to identify potential problems with the piece, and helps ensure that you’re putting the customer first and meeting their needs. When you do that well, it only makes sense that your direct mail campaigns will be successful — and you won’t have to justify your mailings anymore.

About Mohit Tater

Mohit is the co-founder and editor of Entrepreneurship Life, a place where entrepreneurs, start-ups, and business owners can find wide ranging information, advice, resources, and tools for starting, running, and growing their businesses.

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