woman in kitchen going through her mail
From outlining your goals from the start to perfecting your design and images, there are several ways to incorporate direct mail into your marketing strategy. — Getty Images/andresr

Once derided as junk mail, direct mail is making a comeback, thanks to improved data collection and the uncluttered state of today’s real-world mailboxes. Many small businesses consider it a key component of a well-rounded marketing effort.

Sending high-quality mail pieces to exactly the right households requires a significant investment. We’ve put together some tips to help you maximize your direct mail budget.

Determine your goals

An effective direct mail campaign requires the expenditure of time, creativity and money. Defining the desired outcome will be crucial to the success of every other step. Your goal could be:

  • To deliver news. You’re launching a new business or opening a new location. You’ve won an award. You’re introducing a new product line.
  • To increase traffic to your website, physical location or both.
  • To reinforce your brand. Even digital natives are turning to direct mail to increase brand recognition.
  • To capture missed sales. Direct mail can be an effective second chance to connect with shoppers who abandoned a cart or visitors who left your site without making a purchase.

[Read: Telling the Purple Story, From Viral Videos to Data-Targeted Ads]

Make a budget

How much you spend on your direct mail campaign will be influenced by your overall marketing budget and the value of the anticipated outcome. While these factors are unique to your situation, they can be correlated to other forms of marketing.

According to Neil Patel, the ROI on direct mail is roughly equal to that of social media advertising, and nearly twice that of online display ads. Knowing what you spend on those and other channels will help you produce an accurate direct mail budget.

Weigh all of your options

There’s more than one possible objective for your direct mail campaign and more than one way to bring it to life. With a basic budget in hand, you can explore various production possibilities.

  • In-house. Use your own customer data—perhaps augmented by lists from vendors like Salesgenie and ExactData. Design your own mail piece and have it printed locally or through a site like VistaPrint where you will find templates and design advice. If you take this route, be sure to explore postal rates as well as regulations on sizes.
  • Outsource. Turn the entire campaign over to a full-service marketer with the expertise to plan a campaign, print the materials and target your audience with precision. Knowing exactly what your goals and budget are will be essential to finding the right partner for you and your business.
  • Join a team. For some businesses, sharing space in a direct mail envelope is a great way to burnish a brand. Companies like Share Local Media specialize in helping tech and e-commerce companies make the leap to offline marketing.

[Read: 6 Low Cost Marketing Ideas for Growing Businesses]

With the killer customer data available today, the best strategy may be sending fewer but more impactful pieces.

Design, design, design

Whether you rely on in-house creativity or outsource the work, make sure you maximize the visual potential. There’s at least one adage technology has not altered: A picture is still worth a thousand words. Be strategic in every aspect of the design. Your photos should be Instagram-worthy; your colors and font should reinforce your brand.

For e-commerce businesses, the consumer’s transition from print to screen should be nearly seamless. A QR code should lead to a unique landing page. Adopt the most attention-grabbing format the budget will allow; use every design feature from oversized fonts, to die cut, to mailers spiced up with sound and video. With the killer customer data available today, the best strategy may be sending fewer but more impactful pieces.

Make it worthwhile

Every direct mail does not have to include a special offer. However, if you intend to deliver a reward to your customer’s mailbox, make sure it’s a good one. A free gift for coming into your store should be something your customers are genuinely happy to receive. A percentage discount should be considerable—out of respect for your customers’ time and for the effort you put into your campaign.

Pay attention to expiration dates. One of the advantages of direct mail over email is its longer life span—17 days compared to 17 seconds, according to Compu-Mail. Your message should have staying power. Special events that already happened or discounts that expire the day after your mail piece arrives are not only a waste of marketing dollars; they can have an overall negative impact.

Finally, be sure to track your responses. Part of a well-designed campaign is a success metric. Include a call to action: clip this coupon, buy this product, visit this landing page. Make use of this information to improve the follow-up emails—you should send at least two—and to plan your next direct mail endeavor.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published July 28, 2020