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AMiable Solution #488: What Direct Mail Cannot Do



As much as we love to hype the benefits of direct mail, sometimes you need to stop and face reality: there are some things direct mail just cannot do.

Sometimes, when we’re struggling with our marketing or looking at the shiny bells and whistles offered by digital marketing, we need to remind ourselves why print marketing, particularly direct mail marketing, still works.


So, we nod knowingly as we read through articles citing, “direct mail is not dead,” and pat ourselves on the back for continuing to employ a marketing technique that provides our prospects and customers with a tangible experience, invokes a better emotional response than digital marketing, and leaves readers with something physical to look at or refer to long after they’ve initially read it.


Rarely, however, do we acknowledge what direct mail marketing cannot do. But if we’re going to use direct mail successfully to achieve our marketing goals, we have to face the facts:


Direct mail cannot work miracles. Just because it’s an effective way to reach a targeted market doesn’t mean it’s fool-proof. You still have to put in the work.


You have to create a panel or envelope that’s intriguing, relevant, and so emotionally stimulating for your readers that they have to open your promotion. Then, you have to follow-through with your outer-panel tease or promise on the inside of your piece with an argument so convincing that your customer feels absolutely compelled to respond. And you have to design the entire promotion with a specific group of buyers in mind and mail it to a clean list of those buyers.


Generic offers and general mailing lists don’t cut the mustard. You have to create a specific offer and design a specific promotion for a particular, definable audience that makes your customers think, “I need that.”


Direct mail cannot work alone. While we like to think that the mighty mailer can climb overall sales projections with a single promotion, it just doesn’t happen that way anymore today—when companies are competing for buyers’ attention through physical mail, email, the Internet, social media, and cell phones-–than it did when companies were competing for buyers’ attention through direct mail, print ads, radio spots, and billboards. Why? Consumers live beyond their mailboxes. Marketers need to meet consumers where they are if they want to maximize their brand awareness and minimize competitor interference.


Direct mail cannot be a one-step process. My friend’s son used to take a “one and done” approach to writing essays for school. He thought that once he had something on paper, that was enough. But anyone who’s ever written a school paper knows that an effort like that doesn’t get you very far: usually a “C” or “D” in the grade book.


To make it A-worthy takes effort. It takes revisiting the essay and rewriting and editing it until it reads clearly, flows smoothly, and makes a convincing argument or point.


The same can be said about direct mail. Mailing your customers about, say, the newest version of your self-help series is just the first step in a multi-step process. You need to revisit and re-promote your offer to your customers, tweaking it as you go, to build exposure, develop interest, and land a sale. You can’t mail about a product or service once and expect everyone to rush to their computers or phones. You need to follow-up. You need to remail. You need to review what you’ve mailed and test changes.

Despite the variety of ways marketers can reach consumers these days, direct mail remains a profitable and predictable path, as long as you’re willing to put in the work to make it work.


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