People are harsh, at least in regard to direct mail. Even the sweetest little old lady who greets strangers on her morning walk will throw away a direct mail postcard without a second thought. Let’s not think about what that guy you cut you off on the way to work would do. In fact people will only give you about 3 seconds of their time before they decide if they want to read what you sent them, or pile it on top of the credit card bill in the recycling bin. It’s that tiny window of opportunity that makes design so important. Like I said in Direct Mail Beginning to End – Data Lists, your data is the most important part of a direct mail campaign but design comes in a close second.

It’s the design of your direct mail piece that will get you past the 3 second window, and get the recipient to read your message.  While there is no single “best” or “right” way to design a mailer I can give you some fundamentals to think about during the process. First, you need a designer. Your nephew who likes to mess around with Photoshop is NOT a designer. Well, probably not anyway and if you want to create a good mailer you will need to work with someone who not only knows what the terms bleed, cmyk, and ppi mean but can create something that looks professional. Since every direct mail campaign is or SHOULD be unique I can’t help answer questions like what color you should use, or is this font better than that font.  Those are questions that need to be addressed with your designer along with a few other basics.

First things first people need to be informed who you are and what you are offering. If you sending out mailers to clients you have already worked with, or you have a level of brand recognition that Nike would envy than all you need may be a logo.  If you are an unknown then you will need to give the reader a bit more to go off. It may just take a photo, or a slogan but you need something. Remember reading “is no single “best” or “right” way to design a mailer” about 20 seconds ago, there is another approach you might want to take. Give the customer no explanation and see if pure curiosity can drive them to get the information. If I got a postcard in the mail that only had a QR Code I would pull out my phone and find out more.

Next there should be an offer of some kind.  You can offer to give them a discount, you can offer to give them more information, you can offer to give them free kitten with each dog house sold, but you need to offer them something. This is the part of a direct mail piece that appeals to the “what’s in it for me” attitude that permeates American society today so make the offer good. You are not creating a direct mail campaign to use up a budget surplus.

Finally you will want a call to action: come in and get free appetizer, call to hear movie times, register your account and get a free death ray! Tell the person getting the mail how to take advantage of the offer. Directing someone to take action has been proven to work better than simply telling them about the deal. Your call to action can be as direct as “Come buy my Nachos!” or it might be more passive like “When you get a moment, log in and see what we can do for you.” The best call to action is dependent on who are marketing to at the time, and you will probably want to talk to your copy writer about what will work best.

Now here is the tricky part you need to hit all three points in a way that is personal to each person who receives the mailer. Since you have a good data list you know enough about your targets so you can integrate their name into the mailing as a first step. Then you can use a series of images to talk to a potential client on an emotional level. If you know your customer likes to sail thanks to a data list that includes hobbies include some images of people using your product on a boat.  If your client is a college professor include academic related images.  If the prospect is a mechanic a picture of grimy hands is a way to connect. Reach out in an emotional way with imagery, and logical way with facts to get the best chance to connect to a potential new sale. If you are concerned about the complexity of creating a direct mail campaign with this level of detail don’t be. It is much simpler than you may think. Variable data printing allows you to print all the direct mail pieces in one run while changing the images and names on each individual mailer.  Designing a direct mail campaign that truly is customized to each recipient will increase response rate, and get you a better return on your investment.

Your design is what will catch people’s attention, get them to read your message, and get you past the 3 second trashing. Think about how many number 10 envelopes you get in the mail every day, then thing about how many triangle shaped self mailers you get in the mail. Are you going to be more likely to spend more time looking at the standard form letter or a three panel self mailer tied with a bow? The unique piece will always get more attention but creativity costs money. The post office does its job very well, but they do not embrace creativity. This is might be a bit obvious but I’m going to say it anyway; the size and shape of your direct mail piece directly affects how much it costs to produce and mail.  Next week I will start to talk about automation and post office regulations and how to create something that won’t use all or your annual advertising budget.

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In last week’s post: “Direct Mail Beginning to End – How to Get Started” I gave you an overview of the benefits of direct mail as a advertising medium. This week it time to talk about the foundation of every good direct mail program.  Let’s talk data. The data list is more than just a list of addresses. It’s the insight into the lives and habits of your potential consumers. It’s the foundation of your direct mail campaign so if it’s a bad list then you have a bad direct mail campaign.

There are three types of data lists. The first type of list is your client list. This data consists of people you already do business with. This list is arguably your most valuable list because you know the people on this have already worked with you and, as long as you did a good job, are likely to work with you again.  If you are marketing a new product or service this data list should be included in the direct mail campaign unless there is a good reason to skip a person on this list. For example I can’t think of a good reason to send a postcard offering free fingernail painting to a man who lives 3 hours away from the manicurist.  A local salon is more likely to get the opportunity to pain that man’s nails a lovely shade of honeysuckle. One note about a client list, DO NOT mail them anything that mentions first time buyers or new clients. People know what businesses they have used before and they want you to know they have purchased from you. Sending a repeat customer an offer to experience your product for the first time makes you look like a fool and makes them feel unimportant. Both of those qualities are bad for business so keep this list up to date and cross check this list with every direct mail campaign that you produce!

The second type of list is a responder list.  This list is generated by people who may not have purchased anything but have given you their contact information directly. Usually this list is generated from web site surveys, and mail responder cards.  With this group you know the contact is interested in something you are already offering and it’s a good idea to include them on mailers offering specials for new customers. They will not get offended if you offer them a first timer’s discount since they probably don’t consider themselves a customer.

The third kind of list is a purchased list.  With this category of list you’ve probably never had any contact with anyone listed here, and you probably won’t unless you turn them into a customer.  Fortunately for the direct mail data list purchaser a.k.a. you, nearly every aspect of who we are has been cataloged, analyzed, listed and put up for sale online. When you are looking to create new leads you can purchase a data list that is specially crafted to fit your needs. If you need to know how many women who live within a radius of a specific address, are between the ages of 25-45, own their own home, have pets, are unmarried and have a bankruptcy on their credit record you can do that. Or, you can get a list of everyone between the ages of 25-40.  When purchasing a data list the more specific you can be without excluding a potentially profitable demographic the better because the more people listed the more expensive the list.  List are usually sold per thousand records but the cost varies depending on what company you are working with and how detailed the information you need is. I have said this before but it bears repeating, direct mail works when you know your market. If you want best return from your direct mail campaign focus your data list to the most likely group to buy your product.  Don’t narrow it so much you lose out on potential clients, but trying to send a mailer to every address in a tri-state area will not get you a good return on your advertising investment. To get an idea of the kinds of data that can be purchased take a look the list below.

• Geography
• Age
• Income
• Gender
• Marital Status
• Interests/Hobbies
• Purchasing Behavior
• Home Value
• Length of Residence
• Homeowners
• New Homeowners
• New Movers
• Occupations
• Ailments
• Pilots
• Boat Owners
• Dwelling Unit Size
• Donors
• Potential Investors
• Stocks and Bonds Owner
• Real Estate Agents & Brokers
• Nurses
• Auto Owner
• Bankruptcies
• Students
• Veterans
• Presence of Children
• Entrepreneurs
• Ethnic
• Neighborhood Consumers
• Newborns and Prenatal
• Lifestyle
• Mail Order Responder
• Home-based Business
• Motorcycle Owner
• Education Level
• Pet Owner
• Net Worth Model
• Purchase Amount Ranges
• Telephone Area Code
• Insurance Agents
• And there are more…

So at this point you have a product to sell, you know who you want to sell it to, you have the list of names that you want to mail to, but now you need a mailer. People are harsh when looking at mail.  Your direct mail piece will get about 3 seconds of their time before they decide if they want read it or throw it away.  How do you get people to read your mailer instead of piling it on top of yesterday’s newspaper? It’s all in the design. Next week I will talk about how to design mailer that will get your audience to pay attention to what you have to say.

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Direct mail advertising gets a bad rap.  It doesn’t get the kind of exposure that TV commercials get, or the kind of captive audience that radio commercials get during the drive home, but it is one of the best advertising mediums available. Direct Mail is all about efficiency, and it’s important that people understand how effective efficiency is in advertising. TV and radio alike focus on creating a commercial that broadcasts to everyone tuning in. Think of it like giving the first 3,000 people who look at you the same message. It doesn’t matter who they are, what they do, or what motivates them. If they see you, then you give them the message. Not only is this a very impersonal approach to advertising but if the TV ad is offering a lunch discount on sushi to a person with a fatal fish allergy then the ad is not going to work. Not to say the shotgun approach doesn’t work, it does, but its lack of efficiently is expensive.  The expense of producing a quality TV ad is still out of reach for many small and medium sized businesses that’s why most TV commercials are produced by the Wal-Mart’s and Best  Buy’s of the world. Fortunately there is another way.

Direct mail removes the shotgun from advertising and focuses on creating a personal targeted campaign. When executed well it really is one of the most efficient forms of advertising. Wal-Mart and Best Buy, with their huge advertising budget and multiple TV commercials, still use direct mail because it can be customized for each and every individual targeted in an advertising campaign. With a well developed direct mail campaign the customer who carries around an EpiPen to protect himself from an accidental taste of sashimi would never see the “all you can eat” sea food advertisement. The discount shrimp ad would have skipped his mail box, and perhaps found a local foodie with tight budget. Direct mail is all about getting the right message into the right hands. Unlike TV or Radio that speaks to everyone whether they are listening or not, good direct mail only targets people who might want what you have to offer. Then it packages the offer in a way that appeals the potential customer as an individual.  By limiting the audience to interested parties, and approaching that audience in a personal way, a direct mail campaign can get better results at a noticeably smaller cost than any TV Commercial.

If a targeted personalized ad campaign that can be produced for as low as a $0.25 per lead sounds like it might be a something worth looking into then you are in luck. Over the next few weeks I am going to explain how to create a direct mail campaign from beginning to end in a step by step process, buying the data list, designing your direct mail campaign, producing the mailers, and mailing the campaign.  I’ll even throw in some information about getting a good postage rate, measuring response rates, integrating a direct mail campaign with new technology and how it can be done in an environmentally friendly way. It can sound like a lot but if you take it one step at a time, and you have the right direct mail experts backing you it is a very manageable process.  Take some time decide who are the most likely people to buy what you’re selling.  Does this target group, own a home, do they make over 6 figures, are they in school, do they have a birthday in January, do they own pets? Think about it and figure it out because next week , in Direct Mail Beginning to End – Data Lists, I’m going to talk about the most important part of any direct mail campaign, the data list.

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When I think about bar codes, not that I do very often, the first thing I think about are little vertical bars that remind me of a prison jump suit circa 1935. I’m referring to the UPC codes that have been used commonly since the 70’s, but a new bar code is changing my first impression. An evolution of the bar code had dropped the prohibition era fashion and took the appearance of something appearing similar to Space Invaders.Tri-Win Direct Mail QR Code

With new QR Codes (Quick Reference Codes), aka 2D bar codes, information is now encoded horizontally, and vertically. By creating a specific orientation of squares that can be read by today’s smart phones hundreds of alphanumeric characters can be stored in a QR code versus 20 numeric digits in the classic bar code. It’s the data encoding capacity that has made the new QR Codes such a versatile tool. You can of course store pricing info in the QR code like the old bar codes, but it the ability to encode a web address that is freeing the marketing potential of the 2D Bar code.

With the incredible level of sophistication in our own electronic chains scanning a QR code with an encoded web address opens the phone’s browser, automatically directing your prospect to your website or a personalized landing page. The QR code is the key to unlock a multimedia experience limited only by the capabilities of the smart phone. Videos, survey forms, special offers, are all put in the palm of a customer’s hand, literally. I know my phone is one competent user short of running a small country so a little creativity applied to this new tech is a breeding ground for viral advertising.
Catching their attention and getting a potential customer to take action is the fundamental job of advertising. QR codes create a great opportunity to do both. To get the attention of the cash carrying demographic, especially those under 30 you need to engage them with something new or clever. Print advertising alone is just not enough anymore. Adding QR codes to a print add creates another level of involvement. With a good creative team you get the fun cool factor that unlocks a wallet. Or even if you don’t get the sale, at least you get someone to a landing page giving you data that your print ads are getting read, or not.

When you start gearing up to create another print campaign you might think about adding a QR code. It can help catch the interest of the technologically inclined, add ingenuity to a very traditional marketing medium, provide a way to verify your mailings are getting read, and connect to potential customers. Perhaps most importantly it can let you know how efficiently you’re spending your print money.

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Email marketing has become the go to media for “print” advertising over the last few years. It is cheaper, faster, and put right into the inboxes of your target. It seems that email has some serious advantages over direct mail, but that list of advantages has made email the favorite media of spammers, and makes it far harder to get a prospect to read your message.
It’s hard to argue against the price point of email versus direct mail. It costs less to develop and deliver email, but marketers are not the only people who know that little bit of information. Your consumer base knows that there is a larger investment of time and money in a direct mail campaign, and no matter how solid your offer is that extra investment can be perceived as a more legitimate offer.
Of course, after the offer has been made and a prospect has decided to get more information they need to be able to tell you. Email does have the one click away advantage, but there are tools that make direct mail nearly as easy to use. First, there is always a good old fashioned phone number. Believe it or not some people still like to talk to others, not me, but I have heard stories. Listing your web address on the mailing is a pretty standard practice, but for the more technically savvy and socially disinclined QR codes can be printed and scanned with any web enabled smart phone with free software making the response to a mail piece one click away. Yes, you do need to check your mail to get the marketing offer in the first place, but email inbox delivery is far from guaranteed.
The offers for discount vet meds, little blue pills, and requests from Nigerian princes to make you a millionaire for doing nothing has led to spam filters being created that leave messages lost in the junk mail folder unread, and wasted. Even if your message manages to get to the intended target you are lucky if the prospect will read your subject line before it gets thrown in the trash. At least with direct mail you’re prospect will have something real to look at. Email messages are intangible and ignoring a bit of data from an unknown source is simply easier than ignoring something you are holding in your hand.
Sometimes cheaper and faster are not the advantages that people think they are. With a well developed mail campaign you can get a better response rate, add legitimacy to your business, and get responses nearly as fast as an email campaign. Plus if your clients are anything like me they will delete the email, but that pile of mail on the kitchen counter will get your mailing a second look as soon as they get around to cleaning up a bit.

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Even if your Web efforts are booming, don’t give up on good old fashioned direct mail just yet. Catalogs and snail mail could well be generating your most valuable online customers.

All buyers are not created equal — even if they reside in the same recency-frequency-monetary value (RFM) cell. The Web has caused us to look at buyers and the way they shop differently. The LTV of a Web buyer is often not as great as that of a catalog buyer. That’s because buyers who came onto the file from organic or paid search are “item” buyers, not necessarily catalog shoppers. They were looking for a specific item and they found it.

Mailing these buyers catalogs because they are in a most recent recency-frequency-monetary value cell will not stimulate them to make a repeat purchase no matter how many catalogs they receive. Analyzing the channel of origin affords the cataloger an opportunity to maximize contribution to profit and overhead by learning to deviate from traditional RFM segmentation.

— STEPHEN LETT, president of catalog consultancy Lett Direct Inc.

For more, visit http://directmag.com/lists/0518-lists-comparing/.

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Which channel is most effective at finding, reaching, engaging and motivating influencers to spread the word about your product? In the next four posts, I’ll take a look at the pros and cons of the most widespread channels, beginning with direct mail – hope you’ll join me and share your thoughts.

When VCRs achieved mass-market success in the late 1970s and early 1980s, many pundits predicted the demise of the movie theatre. Who would want to drive to a cinema and sit with a bunch of strangers to watch a new movie when you could now do it in your own living room or bedroom? A lot of people, it turned out. VCRs, then DVD players and other home movie systems, didn’t kill off old school movie-going. They simply created a new channel for Hollywood to market its product. Both have lived together quite successfully ever since.

The same, it turns out, has happened with direct mail. Pioneered on a mass scale in the 1950s by Lester Wunderman and others, this way of reaching consumers and businesses caught on with marketers because, unlike traditional print, billboard and broadcast advertising, direct mail’s effectiveness could be tested, measured and improved on in subsequent campaigns. Despite the advent of email marketing in the 1990s and social marketing today, marketers still consider direct mail a viable and effective way to engage consumers in general and influencers in particular.

Why? Well, for starters, there continues to be a segment of the population that likes to receive things in the mail. While I’m selective about what I like and don’t like to find in my mailbox – I’m not big on grocery flyers, for instance – I do like when I get useful information about products or services that I can hold right in my hands.

I’m not alone and marketers know it. After all, with 90% of word-of-mouth happening face-to-face (Keller Fay Study, 2010), marketers understand the usefulness of offering influencers something tangible they can carry in their purse or pocket and pass along to the friends and family members they’re influencing – like a brochure, a catalogue, even a business card with a name, email address or url printed on it.

And direct mail is also still the king of easy and accurate personalization, in spite of digital marketing’s advances. Plus it continues to beat traditional media in its ability to target industries, regions, niche markets and other highly specific local audiences.

Finally, as effective as marketing via email, Facebook or mobile may be, none has (yet) managed to beam a sample or gift into consumers’ homes without using direct mail to get it there. The tactile surprise and delight factor that direct mail offers highly engaged consumers cannot be underestimated. You know they’ll open it immediately and pay particular attention to the contents from a brand they know and trust.

In part 2 of this series, I’ll focus on direct mail’s spry marketing cousin: email. It’s fast and inexpensive, but is it influencing influencers? Tune in next time when we discuss…

Gillian MacPhersen

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When one is in the thick of producing a direct mail campaign, it’s easy to overlook some of the basic elements that are integral to success. So you might want to keep these six quick tips close by as a reminder.

1) Select the right list. A crummy mail campaign sent to a good list can make money, but even brilliant mail sent to a bad list will fail every time.

2) Update your list. According to NCOALink, at least 15% of the average list becomes outdated every year.

3) Go bold. Choose a clear, bold headline and a color that pops for maximum notice.

4) Watch out for muletas. Muletas are the little red cloths that bullfighters use to distract the bull. As a marketer, you need to look for anything in your piece that will distract potential customers from your offer, message, or product.

5) Present a call to action and an offer. One of biggest mistakes is burying (or not including) a call to action. Tell your prospect exactly what you want him to do.

6) Be consistent and commit. Consumers rarely get multiple pieces from a business. Hit your prospects with different communications about the same thing, or with different products with the same look or feel, or both. This sort of persistence reinforces your presence and adds credibility to your brand.

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By David Henkel

Marketers have heard the call to build brand loyalty and engage customers with their direct mail activities through the use of multiple media channels. Combining traditional direct mail tactics with new, interactive capabilities is a cost-effective way for every business—particularly small and midsize businesses without large marketing departments—to produce a higher return on their investment and generate business leads. Employing a multi-touch direct marketing program also offers the opportunity to gain a closed-loop system that tracks, analyzes, and measures the value of a campaign.
The scenario used to go like this: John Smith receives a piece in the mail speaking to the masses who might be interested in the product or service being sold. There is, of course, a call to action with a phone number in the hopes that John is one out the many mailed to who is interested enough to make a call to get more information. This is often called “spray and pray” direct mail marketing, and rightly so. A prayer is the only thing that might spur action unless John really wants your product or service.
But let’s fast-forward. Today John Smith receives a piece via traditional mail, or another initial communication such as an e-mail, with a personalized URL (PURL) or a QR code he can scan with his smartphone leading him to a microsite that houses the information he is most interested in receiving. Once on his microsite, John may find anything from an invitation to sign up to receive monthly e-newsletters to an embedded video to downloadable coupons for a chance to win a relevant prize.

Shortly after visiting the microsite, John will receive an e-mail response thanking him for visiting the site. Based on information John chose to share while there, he may receive an additional letter, text, or social media notification as a follow-up to the product or service he expressed interest in. Now we have created a totally different experience for him—and for the business employing a direct mail campaign to engage him.
Integrating interactive technologies into traditional direct mail campaigns allows you to receive demographic information and data on consumer behavior in real time. Additionally, using intelligent mail tracking (such as USPS’s Confirm service) enables you to receive e-mail from the Postal Service confirming the drop date of your direct mail piece. Delivery alerts make it possible for you to notify customers via e-mail or SMS to expect a personalized package in the mail, sparking curiosity.
Another component involves PURLs, QR codes, and microsites designed to let customers choose how involved they want to become in the campaign and how much of their contact information they are willing to share. Providing the option to opt in or opt out of communications creates a stronger database of engaged customers for future campaigns.
This sort of permission-based marketing can, of course, also be a source for referrals. Customers may forward links to videos and articles on their personalized landing page to their family and friends, expanding a campaign’s reach and effectiveness.

Combining direct mail and interactive strategies also saves time and money. Rather than having to pay 47 cents for a business reply card and waiting for the post office to return the information, you can direct customers to respond online, through social media outlets, or via mail depending on their preference. With so many choices to efficiently communicate and participate in a campaign, customers are more likely to say yes to the offer.
More good news is that smart direct mail campaigns just keep getting smarter. An integrated marketing program also provides the ability to populate CRM systems with information collected throughout the campaign. This intelligence indicates which calls to action and packaging drew the greatest response, information that is vital for refining future campaigns as well as helping to educate sales teams on business leads and development.
Direct mail has always been an effective form of influencing consumer behaviors and strengthening brand identity. But times have changed, and consumer behavior has definitely changed with them. Now, with the advent of easy-to-implement, affordable interactive technologies—and the intelligence we can gain from them—your direct mail campaign can be more powerful and influential than ever before.

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by Beth Negus Viveiros
Why personalized URLs might be a good addition to your next mailing.

It’s common sense to include a URL as a response mechanism in any direct mail piece to give recipients a quick and easy way to get more information or make a purchase.

Increasingly, mailers are turning their plain vanilla Web addresses into URLs personalized to the recipient. “They add relevance, and they engage the customer across multiple media for a longer period of time,” says Jesse Himsworth, channel marketing manager of AlphaGraphics Inc.

Himsworth shares a few reasons you might want to dress up your next mailing with PURLs:

The Wow Factor: Having their name in the URL is a great way to grab a prospect’s attention. Combine this with customized variable text and images, and your piece just might get read, rather than immediately tossed into the recycling bin.

Better Integration: If you time your mailing to sync up with efforts in other media, a PURL can help you better integrate campaigns across multiple channels.

Measurability: You can tell if someone has visited “their” site and set up a trigger-based e-mail blast to hit right after that visit.

But remember, while PURLs are great to have in your arsenal, they’re not a silver bullet. “When PURLs first came out, people thought that the prospect’s name [in the URL] was enough to drive someone to a site,” says Himsworth. “Now, the offer is critical. It needs to be part of a strong strategy.

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