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17 Ways to Improve Response Rates

what works with direct mail

Direct mail is measurable, which is great as long as your mailers are effective! That goal sometimes seems elusive, as if direct mail is some kind of marketing magic where you can't quite figure out how the rabbit got into that hat. In fact, there are a few tricks to direct mail that are easily learned. We've pulled a few out of our sleeve for this story.

Driving Direct. With successful direct response campaigns, three critical elements converge to entice your readers to take action. Those three elements are the list, the offer and the creative. This month, we provide an overview of these three elements, the situations in which certain combinations will be most effective, and provide a few guidelines to help you tune up your mail campaigns.

Before we dive into the three key components of your mail campaign, let's start with the fundamentals. First, we use the word 'campaign' because direct mail is far more effective when produced in programs that have at least three impressions or mailings. A message reinforced by frequency pulls far better than a one-shot mailing without a follow-up. You are better off budgeting for three smaller mailings to a portion of your list than one larger mailing with no follow-up.

With that said, your direct mail campaign can provide you a fantastic way of prospecting for leads. Start by considering the goals you have for your campaign. What are you trying to accomplish? The answer to this question drives some of the decisions you will want to make regarding your campaign's list, offer and creative components.

Let's start by considering who you are mailing to. If your campaign is directed at cold lists, your campaign will be most effective if your goal is to build brand or take advantage of a transactional offer. For this type of mailing, a postcard is often the most effective format from a creative point of view. Alternatively, if your list is already qualified, a more sophisticated mailing featuring an envelope and more extensive copy may work best.

Converting Cold Lists to Hot Leads. Start by making sure you are able to track your cold lists' effectiveness. Do you know the source of each contact on your list? For example, is it a name you acquired via a list rental, an inquiry you received at a trade show, a lead derived from a purchase of a complementary product or service? Knowing where your names come from is critical to understanding which lists pull best as you evaluate your campaign's results. Developing an institutional memory that relies on lessons learned from prior experience will make a world of difference in the long-term effectiveness of your results. This is a business where experience and memory matter.

In the case of a cold list, you want to make the maximum impact as quickly as you can, since you need to grab the recipient's attention. That's why a postcard is often the best way to go. It can quickly convey a branding message or communicate a strong offer that motivates the customer to take action. You might want to consider these creative lessons when it comes to postcards:

  • A Postcard is typically read from top-right to left-middle to bottom-right. Your reader comprehension will be higher if your message flow is consistent with this norm.
  • The order of design elements makes a big difference as well. At nearly 70% comprehension, a design featuring an image above a headline above text has fully twice the level of reader comprehension than any other layout combining these three elements.
  • To take advantage of lower postal rates, your postcard must be 4.25" x 6" in size or smaller. You will be able to reach more leads with this format.
  • With such limited space, make your creative compelling and brief.
  • Keep your brand messaging simple and make sure transactional offers quickly and effectively communicate the offer itself and its value proposition.

Converting Qualified Leads to Customers. A qualified list is one whose prospects have already interacted with you in some way. Perhaps they are a prior customer or purchased a complementary product or service. They may have requested more information, or downloaded something from your website. They could have attended an event or seminar, visited your booth at a tradeshow, or filled out a card in your store. These are examples of qualified lists.

When marketing to qualified lists, you can rely on more complex creative with a longer message, such as self-mailers or envelopes containing a letter, proposal or kit. In fact, this format is preferred in a number of situations where pre-qualification has occurred. These include:

  • Complex offers where communicating the value proposition cannot be accomplished effectively with an overly brief message.
  • Purchases that entail commitments such as subscriptions, financial products or memberships.
  • Products of a personal nature, upscale/luxury products and offers targeted at wealthy audiences.

In these situations, it is helpful to consider these creative guidelines:

  • When reading a letter, folks typically start at the top-left and skim down, ending at at the bottom left, which is coincidentally where the P.S. is located and why it is generally the most-read component of the letter.
  • Make your piece easy to read by using 12 point type or larger.
  • Use a serif font for body copy (it has over five times reader comprehension than Sans-Serif) and use black type (black has over twice the comprehension of the next best color, blue).
  • Always break copy mid-sentence from page to page. Ending a sentence or paragraph at the end of a page encourages readers to stop reading.
  • Most people are slow readers; break you copy down into manageable chunks.
  • Copy in a caption, call-out, border or sidebar is read first so make your most important points here.
  • Generally, warm colors such as red and orange get better response rates than cool ones (blue, green or gray).
  • Hand-written addresses are more costly and time-consuming, but consistently draw a nearly 100% open rate, far superior than machine-addressed envelopes.

Consider a set of guidelines to be just that. While none of these points is a hard-and-fast rule, together they provide a solid set of recommendations on using the lessons marketers have learned to increase the pull of your direct response. Good luck!


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