Direct Mail Diagnostic: A 19-point checklist

Direct Mail Diagnostic:  A 19-point checklist for direct mail success

direct mail diagnosticWhether you’re planning a new campaign or assessing a past campaign, there’s a lot to consider.  Here’s a quick overview of what you should be reviewing.  

1. Program Goal and Expectations
Direct mail has many applications – lead generation, direct selling (order generation), event promotions, traffic building (for retailers), subscription selling, membership development and fundraising.Understand what you hope to accomplish with this mailing.

Are you hoping to generate leads, orders, event signups, retail walk-ins, subscriptions, members or donors.  Focus on the goal.

And be realistic about your expectations.  That 2% rule only applies with certain applications under certain conditions.

2. Product/Service Opportunity
You start with a very basic question: what does your product or service do for your target audience?  What is the status quo of your prospects and how does your product or service change the status quo?

3. Positioning/Competitor Analysis
Positioning is about how your product or service fits into the marketplace – and how your target audience perceives you in comparison with your competitors.  Are you the lowest-cost provider with an entry-level product?  Or are you the highest-cost provider for a more sophisticated audience?

4. Sales Process Integration
Direct mail is a sales function and needs to fit into some part of your sales process – lead acquisition, lead conversion, customer nurturing/sales?  Keep in mind the reason you’re doing this campaign is to improve efficiency, save time or save money. How will this promotion replace or improve what you’re already doing?

5. Audience Profile/Segmentation
Before you start looking for lists, get a picture of who you want to reach.  An audience profile will help you sketch out a detailed overview of your best prospects.  It will include both demographic and psychographic descriptions that help you to narrow your list search.  Most businesses have multiple profiles representing different levels of sales potential.  In some cases, profiles will vary along Do your prospects fall into different vertical markets?

6. Mailing List Selection
With your profile(s) in place, there are many choices for mailing lists.  First, there are multiple types of lists – compiled lists, responses lists, managed lists, web-based lists. Second, there are multiple providers within each type of list.  Third, every list has multiple segmentations allowing you to narrow you focus on your best prospects.

7. Offer Development
The offer is the key to generating the right quantity and quality of response.  If you have a lead generation program, your offer is likely to be a free report or webinar.  But how you package and what conditions you place on respondents will have an impact on your response.   When planning, consider how much time and money you may need to create and produce your offer.

If you have an order generation program, your offer will begin with the price of the price, but again, how you package that price (including premiums) and what conditions you place on that purchase will impact your response.  What conditions will you require to obtain the offer?

8. Direct Mail Format Selection
Formats fall into two broad categories – envelope mailers and self-mailers.  Envelope mailers typically have a letter and reply card, but can also include a brochure and other inserts. If you’re using a self-mailer (including a postcard), consider the overall size of the mail, how many folds there will be and whether one of the panels will be a reply card?  Be aware of postage variations on different size mailers.  Consult with your printer before you settle on a size so that your mailer will be able to work on the printer’s equipment.

9. Testing Strategy
Testing is often viewed as a pre-mailing step, but we believe should be an ongoing part of your overall mailing program.  Continue to mail what you know is working, but always look for ways to improve.  Dedicate a small percentage of your mailing (10%) to trying new things – a new list or list segment, a new offer, a new format or a new creative element (like teaser copy or a new headline). Be sure to test your new item against your “control” mailing to ensure accuracy.

10. Main Selling Points
Every product or service comes with a list of selling points (key benefits).  Some are clearly more important than others, but there is usually one selling point that stands apart as the main reason why your target audience will buy.

After your Main Selling Point, you have all the other selling points that need to be presented in order of importance.  This may vary with different audience segments.

11. Creative
This is a critical step in your campaign that is often misunderstood.  With brand advertising, the goal is to create a memorable promotion for long-term impact.  In direct maketing, the goal is to create a persuasive promotion that generates a response today. These are two very different objectives.

Look for a copywriter who understands direct mail and use a professional graphic designer.  Ideally, use a copy-and-design team.

The creative process should take several weeks – from 2-6 weeks depending on the complexity of the job.  If you want to see multiple concepts at the beginning of the process, you should probably add a couple of weeks.

12. Personalization
For true one-to-one communications, use personalization. Personalization can be applied at different levels.  You could personalize just the outer envelope, or just the letter or just the reply card, or all three.  You can personalize the text of the letter or even do some clever graphic personalization (using variable data printing).  If you’re using landing pages for response, personalized landing pages can increase response.  But remember, added personalization also means added costs.

13. Response Channels
The best rule of thumb is to give prospects as many ways to respond as possible?  Your choices are reply mail, an 800 number, a fax reply, a dedicated landing page (or pURL), your website, email, mobile text or walk-in?  Walk-in response is typically limited to retail or trade show response.

14. Production
Production covers all those services related to get your mailing out the door.  This includes your mailing list provider, data processing service bureaus, your printer, mailhouse and the postal service.  Postage is an important consideration – will you be mailing first class or standard (bulk rate)? If you’re using a landing page or pURL, where will it be hosted and who will collect the data?  If you’re using reply mail, have you arranged for a business reply permit?

15. Budgets
Are you starting with a budget and then finding the best way to spend it?  Or are you starting with your goal and finding out what it will cost you?  Either way works.

Direct mail typically costs between 50 cents and $1 per piece depending on complexity and quantity.  (Some mailings – especially 3-dimensional packages – will cost several dollars or more per piece, but they are the exception.)

When looking at your budget, separate out your fixed costs from your variable costs.  Your creative and project management costs are fixed budget items.  These costs remain the same regardless of quantity.  Your variable costs – for lists, printing, mailing, and postage – will change with quantity.  On a unit basis, lists and postage remain the same regardless of quantity, but printing and mailing services come down with higher quantities.

16. Schedules
A direct mail campaign typically takes 5-10 weeks to get into the mail.   The most time-consuming step is the creative which can take 2-6 weeks depending on the complexity and the turnaround time for approvals and revisions.Beyond creative, you also need to plan for printing (usually 2-3 weeks) and mailing services (1 week).  Naturally all of these services can be rushed.

Once in the mail, you still have time to wait until it’s delivered.  With first class postage, expect delivery in a few days.  With standard postage (bulk rate), your mailing may take 10-14 days (sometimes longer) depending on the location of your target audience.

17. Response Tracking and Measurement
If you’re only doing one mailing at time with no tested elements, this is pretty simple.  You just count the number of response you get – from all response channels.  But what if you have overlapped mailings or you’re testing different lists or different offers or creative.  Then you need some method for identifying the source of each response.

With reply mail, you can put a tracking code in the address area.  The same with a fax reply.  The phone gets more difficult.  You can either have different phone numbers or extension numbers.  For landing pages, we produce multiple (but duplicate) landing pages for each testing cell.

18. Response Analysis and Adjustment
The most common analysis people is the response rate, but this doesn’t take into account the quality of the lead or the cost of the lead.  We prefer analyzing programs on a cost-per-lead or cost-per-qualified-lead basis.  If the sales cycle is short enough, we can also analyze according cost-per-order.

Based on the response, this is also a time to make adjustments.  If you need more leads, you can adjust your offer to make it appealing to more people.  If lead quality was a problem, you can add some qualifying questions to your offer to improve lead quality.  If the cost per response is an issue, you may want to look at direct mail formats that cost less.

19. Follow-Up Strategy
Only in some cases does a direct mail stand alone.  Most direct mail programs – especially those produce leads – need to be supported by a follow-up strategy that may include addition mail, email, phone or face-to-face sales calls.

We strongly recommend setting up an email nurturing program that stays in touch with all new leads – even if the leads are routinely turned over immediately to sales.

With email, you can set up an email “drip” program which automatically sends out emails on a pre-determined schedule.  You can also set up an email newsletter that keeps your name in front of prospects, provides your prospects with useful information and positions you or your company as experts in your field.

We also recommend creating online surveys which can help you collect qualifying information about your new prospects.

NOTE:  While this is the last item on this list, it should be part of your discussions and planning at the very beginning.  Don’t start developing your follow-up materials after the leads start coming in.

To learn more, call Bob McCarthy at 508-473-8643.