5 Ways Direct Mail Marketers Can Mix It Up

Some marketers are doing better than six months ago, but many are not. Hard times, of course, beg for change rather than standing pat. I spoke recently with some leading copywriters and direct marketers about new ways that companies can go to boost direct mail response levels:

1. Test the right things (for the numbers not only don’t lie, they help)
Perhaps more personalization and better premiums is the answer? Or switching to a self-mailer and losing the freemiums? Or fusing the letter into a reply form page to slim the mailer down? Or going four-color with the outer envelope rather than the plain white direction?

The only way to know what will work best is to test. “The smart marketers will test as much of the above as their budgets allow and not assume that what works today will still be the best format and approach in a year or two from today,” says Bob Bly, copywriter and author.

Pat Friesen, copywriter and consultant, agrees completely. “Direct marketers who use the mail need to continue to test and read their results. Testing shows you what works best—most cost-effectively—and it isn’t always the cheapest format or the lowest postal rate.”

She gives an example of a test package she wrote. It happens to cost significantly more to produce than the control. “But the extra cost wasn’t for glitz, glamour or gimmicks. It was an investment in a strategically sound format,” says Friesen. And based on early front-end response and early back-end results, it’s on track to beat the control based on its ultimate ROI.

“Sometimes you need to spend more to make more. The beauty of direct marketing is that numbers never lie. No matter how many awards a great campaign wins, if it doesn’t meet financial objectives, who cares about the awards?” she concludes.

2. Apply what you know about your prospects (a.k.a., database marketing)
“Data interpretation and application is a must,” states Peggy Greenawalt, president and creative director of direct marketing agency Tomarkin/Greenawalt. “But it has to be used with intelligence.” Just because you know something about a person is not enough reason to let him know you know, reminds Greenawalt. “Unwise creative using this information can backfire and deserves to.”

3. Be more accountable
In the fundraising arena, as the then presidential candidate Barack Obama proved in 2009, the younger generation is making its impact felt in significant ways.

“Younger donors are raising the bar for all nonprofit organizations,” points out Merritt Engel, vice president of fundraising agency Merrigan & Co. In fact, she says they demand more accountability than ever before from the causes they support. As a result, Engel believes that message will play an even more important role in acquiring and retaining donors of the future.

“Nonprofits need supporters who respond out of a genuine sense of duty to the organization’s mission, not simply from a feeling of reciprocity or guilt (which is often the motivation from a premium),” suggests Engel.

4. Strengthen the direct mail-Web connection
“Unless the local merchant or professional firm has optimized their Web presence for local search, they can be lost in the vastness of the Web,” warns Gary Hennerberg, president of direct marketing agency The Hennerberg Group.

In other words, make sure that prospects can easily find your Web site, that it impresses the prospect while also syncing with the mail piece, and that orders, transactions or donations can occur easily on that site.

5. Return to basics
While new tactics are worth trying and slim-down moves are understandable, the struggling publishing sector could use a return-to-basics lesson, says Elaine Tyson, president of Tyson Associates, which provides circulation management services to magazine publishers.