Effective direct mail doesn’t depend on expensive, four-color design or overly creative copy. Below are 6 errors that businesses often make with direct mail. Next week we will share six more.
Error No. 1: Neglecting the most important factor in direct-mail advertising success
Do you know what the most important part of your direct mail campaign is? It’s not the copy. It’s not the art work. It’s not even the format or when you mail. It is the mailing list.
A great mailing plan, with superior copy and scintillating design, may pull double the response of an inadequately conceived mailing. But the best list can pull a response 10 times more than the worst list for the identical mailing piece.
The most common direct-mail mistake is not investing sufficient time and effort up-front, when you select – and after that test – the right lists.
Remember: In direct marketing, a subscriber list is not just a way of reaching your market. It is the marketplace.
The best list available to you is your “home” list – a list of customers and prospects who formerly bought from you or reacted to your advertisements, public relations projects, or other mailings. Normally, your home list will pull double the response of an unsolicited list. Yet, less than half of all business marketers surveyed failed to capture and use consumer and prospect names for mailing purposes.
When leasing outside lists, get your advertising agency or list broker involved in the early stages. The mailing piece ought to not be written and developed until after the right lists have been organized. UPS Printing, Marketing and Design will work with you to ensure you are getting the right list for your target direct mail piece.
Error No. 2: Not testing
Big customer mailers check all the time. Publishers Clearinghouse tests almost everything … even (I hear) the slant of the indicia on the external envelope.
Business-to-business marketers, on the other hand, rarely track reaction or test one mailing piece to a specific list against another.
As a result, they repeat their past failures and have no concept of what works in direct mail – and what doesn’t work. Big Mistake. In direct mail, you never presume you understand exactly what will work. You need to evaluate to learn.
For instance, copywriter Milt Pierce wrote a subscription package for Good Housekeeping magazine. His mailing became the “control” package for over 25 years. That is, no package tested against it brought back as many subscriptions.
The envelope teaser and theme of that effective mailing was “32 Ways to Save Time and Money.” Yet, Mr. Pierce states that when he used the very same style to subscription mailings for other magazines – Science Digest, Popular Mechanics, House Beautiful – it failed miserably.
“There are no catch-all answers in direct-mail advertising other than to test responses,” says Eugene Schwartz, author of the book, “Break-through Advertising.” “You don’t know whether something will work up until you test it. And you cannot predict test results based upon previous experience.”
Error No. 3: Not utilizing a letter in your mailing plan
The sales letter – not the outer envelope, the brochure, or perhaps the reply form – is the most vital part of a business-to-business direct-mail package.
A bundle with a letter will nearly always out pull a postcard, a self-mailer, or a pamphlet or advertisement reprint mailed without a letter.
Just recently, a business evaluated two bundles offering, for $1, a copy of its mail-order tool brochure. Plan “A” included a sales letter and reply card. Bundle “B” was a double post-card. The outcome? “A” out pulled “B” by a 3-to-1 ratio.
Why do letters pull so well? Due to the fact that a letter gives the illusion of personal interaction. We are trained to view letters as “real” mail, pamphlets as “advertising.” Which is more important to you?
One suggestion I typically provide clients is to attempt an old-fashioned sales letter initially. Go to a fancier piece when you begin making some money.
Mistake No. 4: Features vs Benefits
Perhaps the oldest and most commonly welcomed guideline for composing direct-mail copy is, “Stress benefits, not features.” However in business-to-business marketing, that doesn’t always apply.
In specific scenarios, features need to be provided equivalent (if not top) billing over benefits.
For instance, if you’ve ever marketed semiconductors, you know that design engineers are starving for specs. They want hard information on power distribution, drain-source, voltage, input capacitance, and rise-and-fall time … not broad advertising claims about how the item conserves money and time or enhances efficiency.
Vivian Sudhalter, Director of Marketing for New York-based Macmillan Software Co., agrees.
” Regardless of what tradition tells you,” states Ms. Sudhalter, “the science and engineering marketplace does not respond to guarantee – or a list of benefits – oriented copy. They respond to facts. Your response piece needs to tell them precisely what they are getting and what your product or service can do. Scientists and engineers resent copy that sounds like advertising jargon.”
In that same line, I believe that medical practitioners are swayed more by complex medical data than by advertising claims, and that industrial chemists are eager to learn more about complicated formulas that the typical advertising author might turn down as “too technical.”
In short, the copywriter’s real difficulty is to learn exactly what the customer wants to know about your product or service – then inform him in your mailing.
Error No. 5: Not having a call-to-action
An call-to-action is what the reader will receive when they responds to your mailing.
To be successful, a direct-mail bundle must sell what you are offering, not the product or service itself. For example, if I send by mail a letter describing a new mainframe computer system, my letter is not going to do the whole job of convincing individuals to buy my computer. But the letter is capable of swaying some people to at least show interest by requesting a complimentary brochure about the computer.
Ensure you have a well-thought-out offer in every mailing. If you believe the offer and the way you explain it are unimportant, you are incorrect.
A free-lance copywriter recently ran an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal that offered a complimentary portfolio of post reprints about direct mail. He received dozens of replies. Then he ran a similar advertisement, but charged $3 for the portfolio instead of giving it away. Variety of responses that time? Just 3.
Here are some effective offers for industrial direct mail: Free pamphlet, free technical info, totally free analysis, free consultation, free demonstration, free trial usage, free item sample, free brochure.
Your copy must state the offer in such a way that it increases the reader’s desire to send for whatever it is you offer. For instance, a brochure ends up being a product guide. A collection of sales brochures ends up being a free information package. A list ends up being a convention organizer’s guide. An article reprinted in pamphlet form becomes “our new, informative brochure-‘ Ways to Avoid Computer system Failures.'”.
From now on, design your literature with titles and information that will make them work well as offers in direct-mail advertising. A simple change such as a brochure listing United States software programs offered for export overseas, could be changed to call the book “The Worldwide Directory site of US Software application,” because people would think such a directory was more valuable than a mere product brochure.
Error No. 6: Shallow copy
Nothing kills the selling power of a business-to-business mailing much faster than lack of content.
An example is what I call the “art director’s sales brochure.” You have actually seen them: Display pieces predestined to win awards for graphic quality. Pamphlets so gorgeous that everybody falls in love with them – until they finally understand that people send for information, not beautiful pictures. Which is why typewritten, unillustrated sales pamphlets can frequently pull double the reaction of expensive, four-color work.
In the same way, business-to-business direct mail is not tantalizing. Its objective is not to be remembered or make an impact, however to create a response now.
One of the quickest methods to kill that response is to be superficial. To talk in vague generalities, rather than specifics. To rattle on without authority on a subject, instead of showing consumers that you comprehend their problems, their industry and their requirements.
To compose strong copy – direct, factual copy – you need to dig for truths. You have to study the product, the prospect and the marketing problem. There is no way around this. Without strong facts, you cannot write great copy. But with the facts at their fingertips, even average copywriters can do a good job.
Just how much research study suffices? Follow Bly’s Rule, which says you should gather at least twice as many details as you need – ideally three times as much. Then you have the luxury of choosing only the best facts, rather trying frantically to discover enough information to fill the page.
Next week we will discuss six additional direct marketing errors and how to avoid them.
Are you ready to market your business with direct mail? Give UPS Printing, Marketing and Design a call today. We can assist you with finding the best list, creating the direct mail packet and testing the response.
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