Things You May Not Know About Direct Marketing


Pam Lau, CMA Direct Marketing Conference, September 21,2008 via Flickr, Creative Commons License.

If you’re thinking about doing your first direct marketing campaign, you’re probably a bit nervous on getting started. For starters, there are so many methods to choose from, it could make your head spin. Then there is the whole actually-choosing-and-implementing-a-method thing. It can also be hard to determine what methods are actually worth the time and expense, and which are obsolete, not right for your company, or downright annoying.

Never fear. There are some tried and true things you can learn about direct marketing to help you get started. Some may alleviate your apprehensions, while others may cause you to realize that this is going to be a lot more work than you thought. Either way, you’ll be more prepared to take on the task at hand.

There is no “right” length for copy

Despite what the direct marketing “wizards” and copywriting gurus would have you believe, direct marketing is not an exact science. They may try and tell you that writing a subject line of this or that length will gain you better results, but the length of any copy will depend on a variety of factors. For instance, email copy will almost always be shorter than that of a sales letter sent through the mail. The copy on a landing page will be even longer still. But it goes beyond what format the copy happens to fall into. The product or service you are selling also has major bearing on how long copy should be. More expensive items will usually take a bit more persuasion than less expensive ones. Think about it. Customers will need a lot more reason to reach into their wallets and purchase a $1000 television than they will a $20 magazine subscription.

The general rule of thumb is that copy should be as long as it needs to be. To determine how long that is, you’ll have to do the work of sending a few pieces out and then waiting for the results. Then tweak, rework, lengthen, or shorten the piece until you get the results you want.

And how about those results…

Many newbie marketers aren’t quite sure what a good response rate actually is. They may send out 100 direct mailers and when they get fewer than 50 responses, it seems like their campaign was a complete failure. The reality is, there are many variables which may impact response rates, but they will typically be much lower than 50%. On average, many direct marketing formats bring in response rates closer to 1-5%. In certain industries, this may even be slightly lower.

Eventually you’ll learn what your typical response rates are. Keep in mind that “response rate” doesn’t necessarily mean sales rate. You may need to get several responses before you ever make an actual sale. As you go along, keep careful watch over how many responses you need for one sale, and how many contacts you need to make in order to get that response. Then, you’ll have an easier time figuring out how often to do campaigns to reach your sales goals.

Aren’t all direct marketing campaigns nowadays done online?

No. Direct mail is still around, and it’s still evolving. Some industries, such as catalogers, have actually seen an increase in demand for their mailers. Most companies are now testing the use of QR codes with their paper mail campaigns, and they’re integrating traditional advertising forms with newer forms of media. In many cases, the one-two punch of using both methods brings in much greater response rates than either of them alone.

That said, you don’t necessarily have to develop a direct mail campaign to be successful. This is especially true if you are just getting started, since direct mail can be much more expensive than digital forms of media. There are some industries in which using digital media may hurt your sales, however. For instance, if your main audience consists of senior citizens, you might have very little luck using Facebook or email marketing.

How to ensure success ?

Here’s the bummer. There is no sure-fire way to make sure your marketing campaign is a success. Sometimes marketing endeavors bomb. That’s just the way things are. You can up your chances of success, however, by keeping a few things in mind:

Target your campaign as much as possible. Direct marketing, more than any other, has to be targeted. It’s no longer enough to just send mailer postcards to everyone on the block. They have to be written and designed to appeal to a very specific audience if they are to be effective.

Test everything. The only way to improve a campaign that doesn’t do so well is to keep testing different methods. So, if your last mailer or email didn’t do so well, you need to examine it carefully and figure out why. Was the copy directed to your target audience? Was the layout neat and appealing? Did you add an appropriate call to action? Look into it very closely, make changes, and track your results.

Consider hiring a professional. Sometimes it’s inevitable. If you aren’t quite sure what you’re doing, hiring a professional designer, writer, or marketing professional might be the way to go. This is especially true if your campaign needs to be done quickly, since you won’t have time to get up to speed on all things direct marketing before the sendoff. Choose wisely, though. Find a professional who has loads of experience in the format you’ll be using, and ask for verifiable references.

Should you use a list?

In most cases, buying a list isn’t a good idea. Many list brokers don’t keep their files up to date, and you could very well buy names of people who aren’t interested in your services, no longer live or work at the address given, or have asked not to be contacted. Overall, it’s smarter to build your own list. If you do work with a list broker, make sure to get references and to do a little research on the company to ensure its lists are legitimate.

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