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Direct Mail 101: Direct Response Marketing

June 14, 2016

All companies market. One way or another, intentionally or unintentionally, businesses present themselves in a certain light which impacts the way the brand is perceived. Therefore, being cognizant of business objectives and managing a direct response marketing plan can help businesses gain control of the conversation and better understand consumer behavior.

There are many different reasons businesses communicate with their audience, and a lot of advertising aims to generate what is called a direct response - referring to a specific, measured action a consumer takes that is directly attributed to a marketing goal and campaign. Direct response marketing coincides with a specifically stated call-to-action. When that action is fulfilled by the customer, the company has the opportunity to provide the desired outcome for the customer, moving them along the sales process. A call-to-action can promote a multitude of behaviors: researching for more information, redeeming discounts, entering sweepstakes, purchasing products, etc. But for internal educational purposes, all responses must be measurable to monitor and understand consumer behavior.

Direct mail marketing can be an effective medium to achieve direct response goals. But in order to achieve those goals, certain techniques and strategies need to be in place to produce a successful campaign.

Here are 8 tips to help you get started on the right track.

1. Capture Attention, Interest, Desire, & Action

The common marketing acronym AIDA, which stands for for attention, interest, desire, and action, describes the general stages of moving a customer through the sales funnel. Though consumers can vary greatly, they all tend to flow through the same stages before taking actions. Consumers may spend different amounts of time in each stage, but completing each action is an essential precursor for the next. Acknowledging this standard can be helpful when planning the content for the direct mail postcard. Here's how to put this theory into practice:

  1. Grab the attention of the recipient (feature attractive imagery, choose a unique paper weight or treatment)
  2. Spark their interest in the product or service (promote offers, sales, benefits, relevant content)
  3. Convince them that they want and desire the product or service because it fulfills a need (identify unique differentiators, convey how the product or service will improve their life)
  4. Compel them to take an immediate action (offer time sensitive sales and promotions, address what could happen if they wait, clearly state a call-to-action)

The call-to-action is a crucial component of all direct response marketing strategies. So be sure to to steer the audience in the right direction and make calls-to-action extremely clear and easy to follow. Eliminate barriers between the consumer and whatever it is that you're offering. This can be done by featuring a QR code to a specific landing page, using a unique phone number rather than to a general line, or simply having an easy-to-remember coupon code on the direct mail marketing postcard. Additionally, these unique pages, numbers, and codes can help in tracking the success of the campaign and the behavior of the audience.

The AIDA logic applies to most sales and marketing communication, and it should be revisited when deciding what kind of content you want to feature in the next round of mailers.

2. Don't Write Off Copywriting

Few things are more detrimental to a marketing campaign than poorly crafted or executed content. Convincing someone to take action is often more difficult than generating awareness. Therefore, strategic copywriting is vital when executing your direct response campaign.

Great copywriting is one of the most useful tools marketers have at their disposal. Conversely, poor language can potentially elicit a negative response, disrupting the recipient's consideration process.

Dare to be adventurous with copywriting - consumers are more likely to remember you when your message is presented in an interesting, humorous, or relevant way. If the language being used is similar to competitors, you'll get lost among the others. It takes time and can be challenging to come up with the best language and statements, but the time spent on crafting your messages can greatly impact the overall success of the direct mail piece. If you don't have a copywriter in-house, then utilizing the services of a contract copywriter can help your brand establish powerful messaging that can be leveraged in multiple settings. Good marketing copywriters take time to learn about your business and know how to best highlight what makes your company unique. If your brand is more edgy, let the writer know you're willing to be creative to stand out from competitors.

Great copywriters are artists. Just as painters can spark emotion through beautiful imagery, well-thought-out words can encourage thought and action. Paring down your direct mail word count to both work with the design and get the right point across is often the challenge, and that's where professionals can be helpful.

3. Don't Rely on Assumptions

Assumptions can be costly, especially when they are being used to determine how you communicate with your audience. Instead of assuming you know your customer's preferences and buying behavior, one of the best ways to gain actionable insights is through A/B testing. Comparing the response rates when different keywords, unique differentiators, or even paper types are used can lead to dependable campaign success in the future. Each direct response marketing tactic should be structured to track results to further the organization's understanding of their customer's buying behavior and preferences. Critically analyzing the successes and failures of a campaign can help to make wise revisions for the next round.

When a company gains a greater understanding of its customers, it can amplify more than the marketing ROI. That knowledge can be beneficial to the company as a whole and act as a catalyst for achieving more satisfied customers and outperforming competition.

4. Remember Your Brand is More Than a Logo

The brand is always important to highlight, no matter what type of marketing objective the company is pursuing. It's important to remember that a brand is much more than just a logo. A brand is like a person - it has a certain clothing style (colors and font) and it speaks a certain way (tone). Presenting the brand in a consistent way helps it to become more familiar and therefore more recognizable to your audience in all marketing efforts - on and offline. Many large companies have a branding book that dictates these set rules, and it's a good idea for small businesses to have a brand standards guide as well. A brand's image should be influenced by everything from its history, vision, and mission to special considerations around customers and professional affiliations. A well established brand can help differentiate the product or service from competitors and ultimately build brand loyalty.

Once you've established brand standards, be sure to revisit them regularly so as not to deviate from them when creating different types of marketing collateral. As we've shared, consumers respond to brand consistency, and disrupting recognizable features of the brand decreases the likelihood of getting the desired results from the campaign.

Look at Chick-fil-A's website, for example, where they talk about their 21-year cow-led marketing crusade that has the same message to this day: "Eat mor chikin." Not only does this statement humorously relate to its product, but it represents the Chick-fil-A brand personality as well. Even without the logo featured in the image below, it's still apparent to most audiences that this is from Chick-fil-A.

5. Use Supporting Images

Good copywriting is key, but images (like in the Chick-fil-A example above) can be used as supporting elements of your message. That said, imagery should be carefully considered to ensure that it complements the copy without overshadowing it.

The type of imagery used in direct mail campaigns will vary greatly based on the product or service the company provides or any themes or brand mascots where applicable. When it comes to eliciting a direct response from a postcard mailer, both the copy and the imagery must work well alongside one another, grabbing attention and conveying a call-to-action which compels the recipient to act.

6. Address the Need

Going back to the AIDA model, we know that desire comes before action. So if the goal is to have your audience respond to the postcard, try to communicate how your product or service will help improve their lives. If the recipient has an existing need and the message on the direct mail piece resolves that need, then there's a better chance the prospect will act. Depending on their buying behavior and the cost of the product or service, the prospect could either research more or immediately purchase. Either way, systems should be in place to track and capture that response.

It's tempting to simply list a bunch of products on your direct mail campaign in hopes of attracting the masses. However, to get the best results it's recommended to segment your audience based on their needs and interest. In most instances, targeted offers will out-perform general product campaigns in the long-term. Knowing your audience can help to determine if this is an essential component of your communication approach.

Generally, consumers don't care about the company's products or services. What they do care about is what the product or service can do for them and how it will address their needs. So knowing and addressing their needs is an important element of the marketing message.

7. Listen to Your Market

Analyzing data via Google Analytics or call center response rates is a necessary marketing practice, however it doesn't provide the same valuable insight as one-on-one conversations with customers. Successful businesses encourage dialogue with customers around unmet expectations as well from those who are happy and returning. Giving customers a voice is powerful in developing brand loyalty as well as necessary to make educated internal business decisions. If hearing from the customer base is important to your company, then consider featuring a call-to-action to prompt this type of feedback in marketing materials.

8. Be Patient

Marketing is a data-driven field. Conveniently, the insights gained can be helpful when justifying marketing budgets, but it may take time to establish credible benchmarks. Many inexperienced marketers expect to see upticks in response and sales results, and if they don't see an immediate trend toward their goal, they want to move to the next idea. Therefore, patience is necessary in direct mail marketing as well as most other tactics. Though results should be tracked, they should not necessarily impact decisions until the campaign has run its course and possibly even a few months following. Analyze the buying cycle of your product or service, and research industry standards regarding the decision making time of prospects. Factor in time for consumers to carry-out the steps needed before the purchase or action takes place (remember AIDA). To gauge where consumers fall within the the sales funnel, there are at least three behaviors that should be measured and analyzed following the campaign:

  1. Immediate sales based upon the campaign
  2. Response actions that indicate future sales
  3. Inquiries generated that didn't lead to a response and went cold

All three are valuable responses, and a follow-up campaign should be ready for both for the new customer and the hot prospect. The data from the third category, the non-responder, can be used to provide insight on what qualifiers should be modified to minimize wasted efforts and funds.

Ready, Set, Learn

Following the principles outlined above will ensure your direct response campaign benefits your overall marketing and business efforts. Execute campaigns using fundamental marketing practices that start conversations with prospects, and then analyze consumer behaviors through response tracking to increase sales and improve your organization's understanding of your target market. This knowledge can also be used as a guide with which to make decisions in other departments such as sales, business development, and customer service.