Perform a direct mail autopsy in 6 easy steps

direct mail autopsyDirect mail is a powerful and effective medium. But it’s a cruel world out there. And sometimes, your mail dies a gruesome death.

Maybe you don’t get the response you want. Perhaps the piece doesn’t get delivered correctly. Or fickle fate steps in and, for no apparent reason, murders a mailer you’ve successfully used a dozen times.

It’s enough to make you sick to your stomach. But rather than just shrug and accept it, there are steps you can take to discover the cause of death.

Here’s how to perform a “direct mail autopsy” in 6 simple steps:

1. Analyze the results. You can’t fix a problem until you know what the problem is. So take a stiff drink and sit down with the numbers for a while.

Is the response rate low or non-existent? If it’s a two-step, is the problem on the front end or the back end? How about your return or cancellation rate? What about net profit? Crunch your numbers every which way to see if you can hone in on the problem.

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Is it smart to use direct mail for online sales?

direct mail for online salesI won’t keep you in suspense. The answer is “Yes!” It is indeed smart to use direct mail for online sales.

There was a time not that many years ago when the “World Wide Web” was a mysterious and magical place. Gurus proclaimed that everything would soon change.

Other media, including direct mail and nearly anything in print, would die a rapid death. We were destined to live in a “paperless” world. “Brick and mortar” stores would transform into “virtual” businesses.

Well, like most idealistic visions, this scenario hasn’t played out as expected. The Web has not killed real-world stores. We shuffle more paper than ever before. And direct mail, while certainly affected by the rise of online media, isn’t even close to death. In many ways, it’s stronger and more effective than ever.

People are so annoyed and suspicious of unsolicited email, they now consider direct mail to be a relatively trustworthy medium. And while SEO, social marketing, pay-per-click, and other online strategies are powerful tools, they tend to reach only those actively searching for a product like yours.

This is why smart online entrepreneurs understand that the medium is not the business. The bigger you want your business to be, the more media you must use to expand your reach. And there is no other medium that gives you more reach than good old fashioned direct mail.

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Divide and conquer to boost direct mail results

divide and conquer direct mailDivide et impera is a Latin saying that translates to divide and rule or, more commonly, divide and conquer.

While the term generally refers to political maneuvering or military strategy, I use it when talking about direct mail envelope packages.

Here’s why …

I see far too many direct mail packages that include pieces randomly, with each piece carrying the same information. The brochure will seem to be an illustrated version of the letter. An insert will make the same points as the brochure. The lift letter will repeat the offer in the same words as all the other pieces.

It makes you wonder why the mailer chose an envelope package format in the first place. Why pay to have all those pieces printed, folded, inserted, and mailed when they all do the same thing?

Each element of a direct mail package has its own purpose and its own strengths.

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Garden club sticks to proven direct mail format

proven direct mailMost experienced direct mailers know that a direct mail package generally outperforms other formats.

The National Home Gardening Club certainly knows that and have been using a big, colorful envelope package for years.

Because I’m an avid gardener, I’ve received this package many times. It arrived in a green and yellow 6” x 11.5” envelope with two windows, one for the address and one to show my name printed on the membership card inside.

I love the teaser: “We’re looking for people to test gardening tools (and keep them free!).” The back of the envelope shows several possible tools and says I have to do a scratch off inside to find out which I’ll get.

Inside, I find a huge, 4-page, 10.5” x 15” letter with a pack of seeds and a pack of plant food glued to the top of the letter. This is a crackerjack technique because it does so much.

It adds bulk to the package, makes a sound when the seeds move, draws my eye to the letter, covers the Johnson box to create curiosity, and stimulates involvement as I remove the seed packs. Wow!

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Write direct mail envelopes that get opened

write direct mail envelopesThe direct mail envelope is both the easiest and hardest part of every direct mail package.

It’s easy in that there’s just not that much space to fill with copy or design. But it’s hard in that there’s so much riding on what you say or don’t say.

The envelope determines whether your direct mail package gets opened or trashed.

Before I give you some envelope writing tips, let’s get one thing straight.

You should not expect an envelope to position your product. You should not use it to show off your design skills. Its job is not to entertain or amuse. You are not required to cover it with clever copy to impress a client.

Aside from holding together the contents until delivered, an envelope has only one job: to get opened.

Here are few ways to do that.

Follow headline rules to write teaser copy. Generate interest with a provocative statement. Provoke curiosity with a question headline or incomplete statement. State a problem on the envelope and suggest the solution is inside. Teaser copy acts like a headline and leads people to read the letter.

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How to use direct mail to drive website traffic

direct mail drives website trafficIf you want to drive traffic to your website, which media should you use?

Email delivers traffic quickly and at low cost, though open rates can be low. Social marketing shows great potential, but it takes effort to make it work.

Then there’s PPC, banner ads, and other online strategies which deliver varying results. But what about traditional direct mail?

Too many people suffer from an “oil and water” mentality when it comes to mixing online and offline media. But the fact is, they work well together. And when you need to drive online traffic, an integrated approach can often work wonders.

According to the 2009 Channel Preference Study by ExactTarget, direct mail influences 76% of Internet users to buy a product or service online. Better still, direct mail remains the one medium that gives you direct and reliable access to nearly everyone in your target market.

How do you drive web traffic with direct mail? Here are some pointers:

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Using a coin trick to get your mail opened

direct mail coin trickRemember when people used to send direct mail packages with lots of stuff packed inside?

That was back in the good old days, before the economy went bust and everyone panicked and started mailing little postcards, invoice mailers, and fliers that all look alike.

One of my favorite old-fashioned direct mail package techniques was the “coin trick.” You attach a penny or nickel to an insert and use a window envelope to let recipients see the coin inside.

It’s irresistible. Very few people can bring themselves to throw away a real coin.

I guess no one told The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society about the “new” economy because they just sent me a package with a coin trick. Specifically, they use a 3-window envelope, showing the mailing address, return address, and a shiny nickel.

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Write the perfect sales letter in 14 proven steps

write sales lettersFairfax Cone once said, “Advertising is what you do when you can’t go see somebody. That’s all it is.”

He was so right.

There is no better way to sell something than in-person. Talking to someone face-to-face lets you have a personal conversation and get a feel for what someone wants and what it will take to make a deal.

However, since it’s not possible to have a personal chat with the billions of potential consumers out there, we use advertising media as a stand-in. And of all the traditional formats, sales letters come closest to the personal conversation you want to have.

A well-written sales letter remains one of the most effective means of speaking to people, sparking an emotional response, and motivating them to buy. It’s simple, personal, easy-to-read, and effective.

It’s hard to explain what makes a good sales letter. It’s sort of like good art: you just know it when you see it.

However, there are some basic steps for writing a sales letter. Here are 14 of them.

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Are there simple ways to reduce your direct mail costs?

Smart direct mailers should always look for ways to cut costs. But in today’s economic climate, cutting costs is a must.

Paper, postage, and printing are all on the rise. Prospects have become more choosy about responding to offers. And marketing departments are being asked to tighten their belts and stretch their dollars.

Here are three simple tips for trimming costs.

Talk to your printer. You may have a well-designed direct mail piece, but is it efficiently produced? Can you make small changes in the layout that will allow you to use more of the paper stock and create less waste? Are you using an odd shape that is making production or postage more expensive? Is the piece printed on unnecessarily expensive stock or stock that requires a special order and extra freight charges?

Consider the following video from my friends at Ballantine Corporation.

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Simple direct mail offers can work like crazy

Spring Hill envelope sampleWhat do you do when you have a good product and a loyal audience? You give them a simple, straightforward offer. That’s what Spring Hill Nurseries did with this big 6” x 11.5” envelope package.

Ferns are popular because they grow in moist or shady areas of the garden where few other plants will grow. They blend with any kind of plant and provide beautiful color and texture where it’s needed most.

I’m a customer of Spring Hill, and I’ve purchased ferns from them before, so I’m on their list and they know I like ferns. Do they need to clobber me over the head with fern details. No. They just need to catch me at the right time with the right offer.

They start on the outer envelope with a big photo of their ferns. The teaser copy is dead simple: “Ferns. Over 50% OFF!” Not clever, but it doesn’t need to be. The back of the envelope shows the six types of ferns offered with the headline “Beautify any shady spot instantly and save over 50%!”

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