Direct mail in a digital age

If you’re looking for a better way to get the attention of customers and prospects in this technology-saturated environment, it’s worth taking a look at a channel that was developed in the early 20th century.

Many of today’s marketers may dismiss direct mail as a quaint relic, but it remains surprisingly powerful even in an age of social media and geofencing. Once you understand the factors behind the effectiveness of direct mail, the reasons should become clearer.

One reason direct mail is a wise choice in today’s market is fewer companies are using it. Those who know how to employ it effectively have a much bigger opportunity to be noticed. Finding a letter with a real stamp is a novelty these days, so instead of simply tossing it aside, people are more likely to read it.

“Me? I don’t read junk mail,” you protest. Effective direct mail and junk mail are two entirely different animals. Direct mail works best when you put the right message into the right hands, and today’s combination of powerful technology and big data makes that easier to do.

Junk mail is what you don’t want. If you’re sending the wrong messages to people who have no need or interest in what you have to offer, you’re wasting your money on junk mail. But if you’re instead sending relevant messages and offers to a tightly targeted group of recipients that meets specific criteria, you’re engaging in effective direct mail.

An advantage of direct mail is that it allows you to “talk” directly to someone who is likely to be interested in what you have to offer … and you’re doing it in a place where they’re comfortable at a time when they’re comfortable. Many forms of marketing communications are interruptive. For example, phone calls always come when you’re doing something else. But most people have a regular routine for checking mail.

I’ve written a lot of effective direct mail over the years, but I’ll be the first to admit that my brilliant words aren’t why those efforts achieved success. Experts who have tested millions of pieces of mail will tell you that the writing and design of direct mail accounts for less than 10 percent of its effectiveness. The quality of offers accounts for another 20 percent. So what’s responsible for 70 percent of direct mail success? The mailing list. You can develop the most beautiful direct mail package with the most poetic wording promoting a truly irresistible offer, and if you mail it to a lousy list, it’s going to fail.

The best lists are focused completely on one type of recipient. The more accurately you can define your target audience and obtain a list of those targets, the more effective you’ll be. It’s also important to make sure whoever is producing the letter merges the right fields. Otherwise, you could embarrass yourself. (For example, my business is named Scott Flood Writing, and I’m floored at how many big-budget companies send me letters starting “Dear Mr. Writing.”)

The other secret to direct mail success is making sure your message is personal. Even if you’re sending your marketing message to 100,000 people, it’s being read by one at a time. You want recipients to feel they’re having a conversation with someone at your company, not being subjected to advertising. Copy that’s friendly and conversational makes that possible.

Direct mail may actually be an ancient technique, but that doesn’t make it obsolete or ineffective. Use today’s tools to refine and boost it, and an old standby may be the key to your newest success!