This is What Direct Mail is All About

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Direct Mail Didn't Begin As Advertising

It isn't advertising today. And we'd be damned surprised if it became advertising tomorrow. Direct mail marketing is a method of selling directly to buyers. Advertising has to do more with intangibles like brand identity, shelf recognition, long-term good will, positioning against competitors, and new product introductions. Yes, direct mail feels like advertising because we use artists, copywriters, and many of the other general characteristics of advertising. But we are not advertising.

Unlike advertising, direct mail marketing is precisely measurable and aimed at motivating a specific audience to take a specific action within a specific time. These things have little to do with general advertising. Direct mail grew from something else.

Our Honored Forebears Were Door-To-Door Salesmen

Door-to-door selling is what direct mail is all about. When you forget this, you forget the basics and reap the harvest of the lost.

Drop 100,000 pieces of mail and what do you have? You have 100,000 salesmen running out to bring back a sale -- right now. This is true for every direct mail package.

It is only natural the success of your direct mail depends upon your understanding of door-to-door selling – even if your mail is an ultraconservative institutional message sent to high level executives.

Look at what successful door-to-door salesmen do, and see how completely direct mail parallels those steps.

The First Thing a Good Door-To-Door Salesman Does Is Choose the Right Doors to Knock On

After all, time and money are limited and he wants to reach the best prospects to make his efforts efficient.

Knocking on the right doors, whether for industrial or consumer marketing, is the most important step in our success chain. We call it, simply, "list selection." Nothing else should happen in direct mail until you know for sure adequate mailing lists are available or can be created.

Even though you send your direct mail salesman to the right door, it doesn't swing wide open. The door opens slightly and a busy, suspicious person looks at him. How does he appear? What is the first impression of your salesman? Is he homely? Is he nervous? Is he warm and friendly? Does he immediately say something to make a busy person willing to set aside other thoughts to hear more from him? Is he a person who will be invited in? It all depends on the instantaneous first impression he makes.

The First Impression – the Face of Your Salesman – Is the Job of Your Envelope

It's copy, format, and graphics are your prospect's first impression of your sales message, and you want openership. The first impression should be strong and engaging so your salesman will be invited in, just like a door-to-door salesman. A meek, boring, wishy-washy first impression gets the door slammed in your salesman's face. You failed to involve the busy prospect so your package is thrown away unopened.

In some cases the right first impression is very aggressive, the sort of "explosive" first impression of unabashed junk mail. (There, I said it.) Such mailings present as pure promotional mail making a super offer.

Other first impressions are more subtle. They depend on the quality of paper, the design of your logo, postage metered onto the envelope instead of printed with a standard rate indicia, or hand-typed and hand-affixed first-class postage, and a subtle headline, if any.

This means while planning direct mail you must put extra effort into the envelope. Extra creative energy and extra budget should go into making the first impression of your envelope very special and interesting the instant it is seen. Never treat the envelope as a simple container for a secret message. Your envelope is not just a carrier. It is your salesman's face.

It is the beginning of your sale sequence. It is a place for excitement and strong allusions to satisfaction. It is a place for bold, direct enticement. It is time for exceptional graphics, even if they are subtle.

If You Ever Have To Choose between a Strong Envelope or a Strong Interior Component Such As a Color Brochure, Put the Money on the Envelope

After all, nothing happens if your envelope fails at its job of achieving openership through a strong first impression. Openership is the equivalent of being invited inside for a door-to-door salesman.

Okay, you've been successful so far. Your salesman has been invited in. But now what? Should your salesman immediately bring out his widget and start pitching? Probably not, or at least not yet. First there one more thing to do.

A good door-to-door salesman starts by creating a personal rapport with his prospect. He says something personal to "bond" himself with the prospect. Now is the time to show he really understands the personal needs and desires of the prospect. For just a moment, your salesman should set aside talk about his product by saying in effect, "I want you to know I like you, understand you, and I want to make your life better."

We do the same thing in direct mail. Though this is seen throughout the entire package, it is strongest in the letter. The letter is our medium of personal rapport with the prospect. It should describe benefits in personal terms without bogging down in nuts and bolts. It should be a one-to-one communication that reads as though spoken by a voice, not written by a fact-conscious technician.

Your Letter Should Always Be from a Person to a Person

Never from a company to a person, nor from a company to a company. This one-to-one way of speaking is always necessary, even though your mailing may be high-level industrial sales, and therefore technically communication from one company to another. Companies don't read mail, people do.

Use Your Letter to Establish an Emotional Bond

Use it to spotlight the advantages of your product in personal terms. Talk simply. Talk clearly. And talk with sensitivity, as a person, to a person, showing appreciation for your prospect's reading your letter.

When you have established a personal bond through promised benefits, it is time to bring out the product itself, put it into the hands of your prospect, and demonstrate its features and uses. When you do this you do it in the brochure. The brochure is where you make the "kitchen table demonstration" used so effectively by door-to-door salesmen. Show the product or service in action. Display the features, its uses, and let the prospect "try it out." Graphics play an especially important part in brochures, especially when you are selling hardgoods.

So far, your door-to-door salesman has knocked on the right door (through list selection), made a good first impression, (with the envelope), established a personal bond, has presented the benefits (in the letter and elsewhere), and has demonstrated the product showing all of its features and uses (in the brochure).

Is This the End of It?

Not by a long shot. Now your salesman has to get the order. Asking for the order, or closing, is the touchstone of true salesmanship. A strong closing technique is where the profit margin can swell enormously. Now more than ever is a time for real sales ability.

Where do you ask for the order? Everywhere! In the letter, and in the brochure, and in the headlines, and in the fine print. Again and again you should urge your reader to take immediate action on this important offer.

But there is one element within your direct mail packages used to shoulder much of the closing burden. This part is the reply device, usually an order form or a reply card.

Make your reply device a dazzler. Make it strong. Don't go all this way to make a great pitch then fall flat with a close sounding like, "Well, do you want this or don't you?"

There is another good reason for putting extra copy and graphics effort into your reply device. A lot of people open the envelope and go straight to the reply device for the answers to two questions: "What are they selling? How much is it?" They are only mildly curious at this point and want fast answers. Your goal is to send them back into the letter and brochure for details.

Knowing readers go straight to the reply device, without first reading your letter or brochure, plan your reply device carefully.

Think about using special involvement techniques in your reply device such as tokens, stamps, peel-offs, etc. Don't use a homely little plain paper reply card (unless it is part of your strategy). Make your response device look as valuable and important as you say your offer is.

Now let's presume your salesman has done a good job. The prospect wants to buy. It would seem the rest is simple, but it’s not true. Spend some time thinking about how you want the order to come back to you. The method of replying or ordering can have a substantial impact on the response received, as well as the profitability of your operations.

What Is Best for Your Needs and Best for Buyer Convenience?

Do you want a response mailed back with a check? Or is it a SEND NO MONEY offer? Can the buyer use a credit card? Would it be best to have the order come to you through a toll-free number? How about the Internet? Do you ask for something to be handcarried into a retail outlet? There are many reply modes available and they all deserve special thought on your part. How about a combination offer such as, "Mail the enclosed Activation Request or call our toll-free number."? Think through your response modes and test them just as you would test prices or lists.

Now do you see what we mean when we say the direct mail came from door-to-door selling?

This wonderful marketing method has nothing to do with general advertising. It is a powerful and productive way to make direct sales. But it has to be used with the basics in mind. Whenever you sit down to create a direct mail piece, from a simple lead acquisition package to an involved direct sales package, create a living salesman who will march out your front door and do what an in-person salesman would do.

NEVER MAKE THE FATAL ERROR, TYPICAL OF GENERAL ADVERTISING AGENCIES, OF CREATING A CUTE SPACE AD, FOLDING IT UP, AND STUFFING IT INTO AN ENVELOPE. THAT IS NOT DIRECT MAIL. THAT IS A WASTE.

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