Thursday September 15, 2016

Direct Mail: A Bold New Future?

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I’m tired of the internet.

Well, kind of. I still generally like Twitter and my set of regularly checked websites.

But I am extremely tired of ineffective internet marketing tactics that are frequently presented to small businesses as the answer to all their problems.

No one platform or method of marketing will solve all the marketing needs of a business – it takes a comprehensive and targeted approach to achieve these goals. But after you’ve seen a few paid social ads fall flat, or one too many emails sent to thousands – to only see maybe one or two people open and click on the email – eventually you can’t help but wonder if there’s a better way to do this.

Maybe the solution can be found by looking behind us – or in the mailbox.

What’s Old is New Again 

Growing up I’d usually get home from school before my parents did, so it was my job to grab the mail. And let me tell you what, I became an expert at filtering out what was clearly junk mail, depositing the unwanted messages in the garage trash can before entering the house. A talent you couldn’t deny.

This is a manner of saying what you already know: at some point, direct mail marketing became annoying and fell out of favor as cheaper and newer (email!) forms of marketing developed. Once we began carrying around mobile devices with instant access to email, why wouldn’t you rely on this method of marketing? It’s cheaper and allows you immediate access to prospects.

A 2013 Hubspot article, based on data from the Harvard Business Review, even found that email marketing, in general, had greater ROI than its direct mail cousin. 

So why bother with direct mail marketing? Because no one wants more emails, just like how back in the day, no one wanted more mail. 

An example. Every day I open my Gmail app, see the additions to the “promotions” tab and ignore it. Seriously, just to check I clicked on that tab to see there were, as of writing this, And that’s after I deleted a couple hundred a month ago before realizing how futile a task this was. 

Now that’s not to say that email marketing doesn’t have value; it totally does. If I’m interested in a business or organization, I’ll make sure that their emails go directly to my main inbox. And even if the overall majority of the prospects on your email list are ignoring your messages, that doesn’t mean it’s a worthless effort. Even receiving just one or two new customers from an email marketing campaign can be a huge success for a small business.

But the point I’m making is that by adding direct mail as another tool in your marketing toolbox, you can not only potentially bring in new clients, but help develop the overall brand of your business -- which can translate into substantial value in the long-run.

A Showcase for your Brand

Let me return to the junk mail/email analogy. Basically, the roles have flipped, especially for younger consumers. As a member of the never-not annoyingly named generational group, “millennials,” I can confidently say that any time I receive a well-made piece of direct mail, I look at it.

This is important to keep in mind, as by 2020, at least half of the workforce will be made up of people from this generation. Targeting them in unique ways will become an essential tactic of any strong marketing campaign.

Do you know how rare it is to actually receive something physical these days? Any time I attend a meeting and receive a printed out agenda or topic information, my mind is blown. You mean I don’t have to log into my Dropbox account to see if the link you sent me is there and oh what’s your Wi-Fi password and no it looks like that one isn’t working and maybe it’s lowercase (?) alright I’ll just nod and pretend I have access, thanks!

If this sounds unrelated, it’s not. This is how life is now. Extremely digital, sometimes to a fault. 

When considering whether to test a direct mail campaign, rely on empathy to think through what your target markets’ days are like. If you know they may have work days like the one I outlined above, then direct mail can be a refreshing change of pace. Similarly, if they don't spend much time in front of a computer, then direct mail presents an opportunity to connect where email would miss the mark.

It sounds simple, but producing a well-thought-out and designed piece of direct mail marketing can grab attention and, most importantly, leave a positive impression.

As with any channel, there are potential pitfalls with direct mail. Obviously, calls to action on direct mail face a hurdle emails don’t have. If you are directing prospects to visit a website, for example, it’s much easier (and more likely to actually happen) if they can just click on a link, rather than type in a URL themselves. 

But, once again, direct mail can have a longer shelf-lie than an email. Rather than residing in an inbox I’ll never open, I'll pick up on some form of messaging through the mail. Maybe I’ll see an image that sticks with me or a phrase that resonates. If it’s done well, it has the potential to linger and lead me to reach out to that business at some point down the road. 

Look and Feel

With that being said, when I get something that appears cheap and poorly planned out, it seems almost as though it was created to be recycled. Because that’s about all I’m going to do with it. Cheap, lightweight paper with the texture of a newspaper won’t get the job done. 

The construction, along with what form your direct mail takes, are things you need to plan out. When thinking about what form to use, consider what format best suits your purposes. These options may include: 

  • Is your message image heavy or can it be shared with copy in a quick and space-saving fashion? Then a postcard is an excellent option for you. These are also great for promoting events you may be hosting.
  • Have a concrete set of information you’d like to get out? Engaging imagery mixed with descriptive and problem-solving copy and go a long way to informing potential customers about the benefits of your services or solutions.
  • Something as simple as a personalized letter can go a long way to familiarize your business to potential customers. Writing a letter that is honest, human and effective can make quite the impression.

As far as design goes, think through where your prospect is likely to look first. If it’s a postcard or a letter, they’ll likely check to make sure the mail is addressed to them first. Use this opportunity when designing a postcard to place imagery or copy that will resonate nearby, or with a letter, try to make the address look as authentic as possible. Whether that means hand writing on envelopes or using original font (anything other than cursive fonts that make it “appear” handwritten, which is lazy and cheesy), it’ll increase the odds they open it.

For brochures, place branding – whether that be a logo or key phrase – on as many pages as possible. This will increase the odds your prospect sees it and remembers it, even if they don’t flip through the entire brochure. You don’t have to make the logo too big – that might come off as obnoxious – but something small enough to stand out yet still ties into your design is unlikely to offend.  

And when it comes to the construction of these pieces, don’t skimp. Talk to your printer to figure out what paper will feel unique and sturdy. You might want a texture that will stand out, too. Keep in mind that different paper weights and formats will lead to varying costs. A heavier paper stock used to print a brochure will cost more to mail than a postcard or simple letter, for example. 

Take this into consideration when building your direct mail campaign and plan accordingly.

One Piece of the Puzzle

A direct mail campaign is probably not a silver bullet for all of your business’s problems, but neither is any other tactic when used alone. It is, however, a way to complement digital channels and to reach prospects who will never pay attention to your digital marketing efforts.

Make a list of prospects you think will react positively to this campaign and tie these tactics together. You don’t have to send a direct mail piece to everyone on your list; it might only be worthwhile to target your most profitable prospects with more substantial and personalized mail. 

And keep some extras of these print pieces laying around. It’ll certainly be more interesting to hand out than any printed copy of an email.  

Also, up to 3,629 emails… and counting.

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