I have been sending out direct mail for a pretty long time, and over those years, I have consulted on literally hundreds of direct mail pieces. I usually get a wide range of questions from piece/content design, to frequency or who to target. For this posting I going to discuss the 5 best practices for success with direct mail.
Lets dive right in. I’m going to present this as if we were a marketer or business owner conceptualizing a brand new campaign. I like to pretend that we are in the gym membership business, so we will be making decisions from this standpoint. The steps that we are going to look at are as follows:
- Expected ROI
- Who and Where to target
- Piece Creative and Content
- The Offer
- Getting the Piece in to Mailboxes
January tends to be the strongest month for gym memberships, primarily because of Christmas and New Years Resolutions. So as part of an overall marketing push for January memberships, we want to make sure to include direct mail.
1. What’s our expected ROI
As marketers, we know that that not all campaigns are built equally, but we have some experience sending out mail. We want to make a decent effort, but we’ve only allocated about $10,000 of our budget to direct mail. So Ideally, we would like to get at least, a 200-400% return on our investment. So what does that mean? Lets do the math. The average family gym membership in a urban area can range from $60, up to $120 per month. Lets say that at our location, its $75 a month. Lets also assume that when a new family signs up, they’re going to stay for at least 9 months, but hopefully longer – the average ranges from 6 months to a year for a new membership that may be on the fence about fitness. So 1 response equates to $675 of revenue ($75×9) – seems reasonable. That means we would need 15 new memberships to break even, or 30-45 to be considered a successful campaign.
I like to assume that 1 postcard costs about $.50 to mail, including the postage, list purchase and printing – trust me, this is a good number to use. So if we need 45 responses, how many pieces do we need to send if the average prospect mailing generates a .5% response rate? 45/.5%=9,000, but we’re going to mail 10,000. So theoretically, we could get less than a ½ of a percent response and have a decent campaign. Seems doable. Understanding ROI, is one the first thing to come to grips with when starting a campaign, and setting internal expectations.
2. Who and Where are we Going to Target
Once we have decided that we would like to conduct a direct mail campaign and that we’ve set expectations about what type of response we may get, we need to decide who we’re going to try and target.
In our membership organization we have 4 main membership types – youth, adult, family, and senior. Because we have conducted a Market Area Report, we know that we want to target families. A family is defined as a household with the presence of at least one child. Whether or not the parent is married is not relevant, because if they bring a child, then they must have a family membership.
The Market Area Report that we have purchased has helped us understand the below:
- The demographic profile of our membership base including, age, income, marital status and presence of children
- The demographics of the households in our market that we’re missing (non-members)
- Which neighborhoods specifically we do well in
- Which neighborhoods we’re missing
We already knew that we wanted to target families, but the research we have conducted has no told us that we want to hit families in a certain income range and most importantly which neighborhoods. At MAR, we call this direct mail analytics.
Remember, the more data we can use to increase our response, the better.
3. Piece Creative and Content
After we know who and where to target, we need to decide what type of piece to create and what type of content its going to contain. As I’m sure you’ve noticed from things you’ve received in your mailbox, some businesses believe that that the design is everything, others believe that they can slap something together in Word and they’re done.
Let me just pause there and say – Microsoft Word or Powerpoint is NOT a program that you want to use to create your direct mail piece. If you don’t have Adobe Creative Suite, specifically InDesign, then you need to find a professional who does, and pay them to create your mail piece. 90% of the crap you receive that you think looks like crap, was designed in Word or Powerpoint. NO Marketer that’s serious about their campaign sends a Word document to their printer.
Ok, so we’ve located a designer who is using InDesign, we now need to give them direction on content. Lets first assume that the designer has talent, and that basically we’re going to stick with a brand that we already have established.
We need to decide what type of piece we are going to mail: either a postcard, a letter that needs to be opened, or a self mailer. A self mailer can be defined a brochure/pamphlet that has information, but has the name and address printed on the outside panel of the piece. There is a lot of thought on this subject, because obviously one is more expensive than another from a print perspective, while another gets a better “open rate”. For this example because it’s a straight direct mail new join solicitation, we’re going to mail a postcard. If we wanted to invite families to a program or summer camp, then I would suggest spending a little more and mailing a brochure/pamphlet. If we were mailing a re-join invitation to past members, then we could personalize a letter and put a coupon insert in to an envelope and mail that.
Now that we decided to mail a postcard, we’ll need to make sure that the imagery that we select matches our target audience. Remember people are going to identify with people like themselves. You don’t want to put a bunch bodybuilders or seniors on a piece that’s going to families. We more want to show imagery of kids playing, or swimming (if! we have a pool), or learning something in a classroom. Again, remember we’re talking to parents, and they’ll identify with your business by connecting through what their kids will be able to do at the facility – they already assume your have the workout stuff they want. You could go as far as segmenting the list by the child’s age range, and choose 2 or even 3 different pictures to show. Meaning some households get postcards showing young kids, others get images of 8-12 year olds at camp, and others receive a postcard with teenagers playing basketball.
Lastly, I want to touch on the amount of content. You only have a few seconds worth of your prospects’ attention span, so don’t clutter the postcard with too much. The front side should basically be the image, the name of your business and the call to action. The back should better define the call to action, but in an efficient way. We don’t want to print something that reads like stereo instructions on the back side of the card.
4. The Offer
Your direct mail piece must have an offer. I’m going to repeat that, your direct mail piece must have an offer. People that receive a piece that says “Hello, I’m here. Come visit me.” – deposit those pieces of correspondence right in circular file cabinet. What’s the point? Why keep it. However if there is a call to action with an expiration, such as, “No Join Fee”, “Join now and pay less for a year”, “Free childcare with a family membership”. These types of offers are more likely to solicit a response.
Think about an offer from your local pizza shop or restaurant. Are you more or less likely to visit the establishment if there’s a coupon on the mail piece? More likely! Sure you may go there if they just send you a menu, but if its not a new restaurant and you’ve been there before, you’ll only go if you like the place.
5. Getting the piece in to mailboxes
Now that our piece is ready to go, we’ll need to buy a list, then get it printed and in to mail boxes.
When you purchase a list, you want to buy one from a reputable vendor who is selling fresh data. Nothing kills your ROI faster than buying an old list from someone who is not updating their data. At Market Area Reports, we help you pull your list using the research that we identified earlier.
Once MAR has delivered your list, you’ll need to send it to a printer. Let’s make sure that the printer we select is a reputable vendor, who is not farming your postcard out to wholesale printer, and that they’re going to mail your postcards in the timing that you have established.
Then, lets discuss timing briefly. Depending on the size of the mailing, the printer is going to need a few days to print. For 10,000 postcards, 4-5 business days is sufficient. You also need to consider that the post office is going to need a few days. So, if we want our postcards to hit in the second week of January, we’ll need to get the print files and list to the printed right around the first of the year.
Last we need to decide how many times we’re going to send the mailing. Research shows that the response rate increases as frequency increases. Because this is a January “Join Now” campaign, we may want to send an offer at the beginning of the month, then a “Final Deal Days” closer to the end of the month.
The 5 best practices for success with direct mail are: Expected ROI, who and where to target, piece creative and content, the offer, and getting the piece mailed. Feel free to call or leave a comment, if you have questions about how MAR can help you with your next direct mail campaign.