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Direct Mail

Definition: A marketing effort that uses a mail service to deliver a promotional printed piece to your target audience

Direct mail encompasses a wide variety of marketing materials, including brochures, catalogs, postcards, newsletters and sales letters. Major corporations know that direct-mail advertising is one of the most effective and profitable ways to reach out to new and existing clients.

What's the advantage? Unlike other forms of advertising, in which you're never sure just who's getting your message, direct mail lets you communicate one-on-one with your target audience. That allows you to control who receives your message, when it's delivered, what's in the envelope and how many people you reach.

To create an effective direct-mail campaign, start by getting your name on as many mailing lists as possible. Junk mail isn't junk when you're trying to learn about direct mail. Obtain free information every chance you get, especially from companies that offer products or services similar to yours. Take note of your reaction to each piece of mail, and save the ones that communicate most effectively, whether they come from large or small companies.

The most effective direct-mail inserts often use key words and colors. Make sure the colors you use promote the appropriate image. Neon colors, for example, can attract attention for party planner or gift basket businesses. On the other hand, ivory and gray are usually the colors of choice for lawyers, financial planners and other business services.

To involve the reader in the ordering process, many mailers enclose "yes" or "no" stickers that are to be stuck onto the order form. Companies such as Publisher's Clearing House take this technique farther by asking recipients to find hidden stickers throughout the mailing and stick them on the sweepstakes entry. It also asks customers to choose their prizes, which gets them even more involved.

Next, read up on the subject. A wealth of printed information is available to help educate you about direct mail. Do-It-Yourself Direct Marketing: Secrets for Small Business by Mark S. Bacon is a comprehensive manual that touches on all aspects of direct mail. Two of the better-known publications are DM News, a weekly trade paper, and Direct Magazine, a monthly.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) is a national trade organization for direct marketers. For a catalog that highlights many of the direct marketing industry's books, a free brochure that lists a variety of direct marketing institutes and seminars across the country, or more information about joining, call the DMA at (212) 768-7277. You can also visit the group's website.

With any type of direct mail, appropriately timed follow-up is key. Mailings with phone follow-ups are most effective. Don't wait too long to contact your customers after doing your mailing: After several days, call to ask if they've received your card, letter or e-mail. If they have, now's the time to make your sales pitch. If they haven't, mail them another ASAP.