How to Create a Direct Marketing Campaign

Waging a Direct-Mail Campaign

Once you've outlined your target market, staging a direct-mail campaign has seven key steps:

1. Develop a mailing list. Put your description of the targets on this list in writing, so you know to whom you're mailing. If you're mailing to a larger-sized list (more than 20,000), you'll probably want to provide your letter shop with Cheshire labels: unglued labels that are affixed to your mailing piece with special glue. For smaller quantities, you might just provide pressure-sensitive (self-sticking) labels. When you have a small quantity of labels, you can put them on by hand with pressure-sensitive labels. Cheshire labels require machine application at the mailing house. Your list supplier will provide you the labels in whatever format you want.

2. Create a mailing piece. You don't just mail out a brochure to your list. That gets too expensive, and your brochures weren't designed for it. You need to create a direct-mail piece with a strong offer that will spur the recipient to action. All direct mail leads to the "call to action": What do you want the recipient to do next? Mail back the business reply card? Call the 800-number? Fill out the order form and fax it to your number?

You can never be too pushy in direct-mail materials. You can also be clever, cute, whimsical, even overpowering, but only in connection with being pushy. Your goal is to get action. You don't create a direct-mail piece to inform. That's what your brochures are for. You want action!

Designers of direct-mail pieces like to get creative with graphics. Your goal is to get the reader to respond to the offer. Any graphics that don't contribute to that are not worth the design and printing costs.

According to most direct-mail gurus:

  • 40 percent of a piece's impact comes from sending it to the right list in the first place.
  • 40 percent comes from the value of the offer.
  • 20 percent comes from the design or writing of the piece.

3. Code your response vehicle. Whatever way you ask recipients to respond, make sure you code your mailing. All you have to do is assign each mailing a batch number, such as 04052103: 0405 is the month/year of the mailing; 21 is the identifier for the particular list you mailed from; and 03 is the identifier for the particular offer. Coding provides a simple device for revealing just who has responded to which mailing and which offer. It makes individual responses much more valuable, since you can easily tabulate the different codes to see what's working the best for you.

4. Test the campaign. Even a modest campaign of a few thousand pieces can run up the budget with mailing and duplication costs. So you should always test mail a portion of your mailing list and check the results. No one can predict the response rate you'll get; there are just too many variables.

What percentage of your mailing makes for a reliable test? Again, it varies, but most authorities would tell you to test 10 percent of your list and no less than 250 pieces. This will give you enough of a spread across the variables to make the results worth something. Before you do your test, you should decide what response rate will support your going ahead with the planned major mailing. This will depend on your budget.

Writers on direct mail duck the issue of response rates because there are so many variables--and because no one really knows how to predict response. Experience suggests that if your rate is less than 2 percent, something is wrong. Either your list is wrong, or your offer is too weak. If you get a response rate above 7 percent for a mass mailing (without giving away the farm), you've done very, very well.

5. Run the campaign. Keep your mailing pace in line with your ability to handle the potential responses. Your test mailing will give you some sense of the rate of customer response. Use that as a gauge for how many pieces you should mail in a given week. Mail only those pieces you can support with your sales effort.

6. Handle customer responses. You can't handle the fulfillment end of a direct-mail campaign without considerable planning. If you're asking respondents to request additional information, what are you going to send them? How soon do you want to mail the information out? What else will you do with the responses? In other words, how will you make maximum use of the names you have spent so much money to acquire?

If you're a company with distributors or sales offices, it's common to pass along the names of prospects, so that follow-up can be handled on the local level. This can be handled with e-mail or faxes. The quicker the response the better, since your speed in dispatching information can quite justifiably be viewed as reflective of your commitment to customer service. Why should respondents have to wait for materials?

If you are mailing out product or samples, do you want that handled from your main offices? Many mail order campaigns depend on fulfillment houses, professional operations that handle the logistics of sending out materials to large quantities of customers. You provide the products and the prospects, they'll take care of the rest.

7. Analyze the results of the campaign. This is perhaps the most important, and underrated, aspect of the campaign. Did the final results match what you expected from the test? What parts of the demographic responded better than expected? Are there subsets of your target audience that you can focus on in future mailings? Every direct-mail campaign you run should contribute not just to your sales figures but to enhancing your customer database. In very real terms, it represents the future of your business.

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