1. Follow the 40/40/20 Rule
If you've read this blog before, you know how heavily we stress the importance of preparing, making a well-thought out and comprehensive plan, and then executing against it. Well, it's no different for direct mail marketing, and the tried-and-true approach for this tried-and-true method of marketing is known as the 40/40/20 rule. This rule dictates that the success and eventual ROI of your direct mail marketing efforts are going to be dependent upon three factors - 40% of your success will come from how effective your mailing list is, another 40% will depend on how compelling your offer is, and the remaining 20% will come from everything else (design, the copy/text of the mailing, the images you've chosen, delivery date and method, etc.).
Don't waste time on the design
While this is obviously more of a guideline than a hard-fast rule, if nothing else it should show you where your efforts need to be placed when undertaking a direct mail marketing campaign. Too often, business owners will spend an inordinate amount of time on coming up with the flashiest, snazziest, most eye-catching design that they are sure will blow everyone away, and then rush to put together the offer and/or the list of folks to send it to. It's one of the most common mistakes of a mail marketing campaign.
Focus on defining who your audience is
If your store is offering a limited-time discount on Life Alert bracelets, you know you don't need to waste time and more importantly money sending the promotional materials to anyone under the age of 55. Unless you have limitless pockets, simply blanketing an area or zip code with your offer is a great way to waste money.
Once your list is targeted, you need to spend an equally large portion of time coming up with a great deal - even if it means you might lose a bit of money on it. The underlying goal of any marketing campaign is to gain new customers, and it's worth it to significantly reduce your profit margins to gain said customers. Once you have a surgically-honed list and an amazing offer, then you can spend some time on the design, copy, delivery methods, postage rates, date of delivery, size of the mailer...there are a lot of other options to consider, but following the 40/40/20 rule you can see how important audience and offer truly are.
2. Test The Market
This ties into the first 40 of the 40/40/20 rule - even if you have what you feel is a great and well-defined target list, you won't truly know how great it is until you test it. If you operate a business in a smaller community, this won't be as critical - but if you're in a medium or large city, it can be crucial. Using the example above, even if you know that the Life Alert bracelet offer is meant for seniors, in a city like San Francisco or New York, you wouldn't want to send it to everyone over the age of 55 citywide. Instead, select one (or in a very large city, several) small area to test the market out. Start small and measure the effectiveness and ROI along every step of the way.
You can (and should) run several tests with small tweaks to find the most effective combination of audience, offer, and design before sending it out wide - just remember to only change one variable per test or you won't know what caused the changing result.
3. Make a Great Call to Action
This ties into the second 40 of the 40/40/20 rule - now you're probably beginning to see why that was listed up front and why it's universally considered the gold standard when it comes to direct mail marketing guidelines. With other forms of advertisements or marketing, it is perfectly acceptable to only go after impressions - a billboard in a highly-trafficked area or a TV spot that is more of a teaser in nature can sometimes go a long way toward educating the public of your existence, which is the first step in getting them to engage. With direct mailings however, you might as well be printing cash to send out to people if you don't have a compelling call to action to give people.
The call to action doesn't have to be a sale or discount - it could be advertising a contest or promotion, or incentivizing people to conduct an online survey. Regardless of the nature of the call to action, there must at least BE a call to action. Direct mailing is most certainly not the avenue to send out a blank postcard or flyer that simply informs people of your presence - it's too expensive, too time consuming, and too hard to efficiently track metrics to garner simple impressions.