Direct Mail Marketing: A Better Way?

It’s often called “Junque Mail.” And with good reason! Why the fancy spelling? Because any way you spell it, “junk mail” is often very expensive – and not always profitable.

Actually – and take it from someone who was once responsible for upward of 50 million pieces of direct mail a year – the return on investment (ROI) is often marginal at best.

First off, there are no guarantees of success. In most cases the advertiser will be lucky if even two people out of 100 who receive a particular piece of direct mail buy what’s being offered. That means 980 recipients out of ever 1,000 who receive that direct mail “package” or “kit” as they’re known, will throw it out.

At a cost of between $500 and $800 per thousand kits to produce, that’s a lot of precious advertising dollars ending up in the trash bin. For the uninitiated, a “package” or “kit” includes a variety of items in the envelope reaching a home.

There’s the traditional sales letter, usually from one to four pages long. Then the brochure describing in words and pictures what that sales letter could describe only in words. There’s also a “response device.” Never call it an Order Form. Heaven forbid! It can be called a “Membership Application,” a “Certificate,” a “Response Card,” but never an “Order Form” because people baulk at ordering.

“Ordering” anything instantly communicates the expectation that the person ordering will have to pay for what was ordered. But “joining” or “responding”? Well, it may take a little longer to realize, but that, too, must be paid for.

In addition to the all of the above, there’s also the postage-paid “BRE,” short for Business Reply Envelope. Or the no-postage-paid, preaddressed “CRE,” Courtesy Reply Envelope. Gotta have something to put that “Membership Application” in, right?

Oh, and most kits also include the infamous “lift note,” a little piece of colored paper that says in essence, “If you’ve decided not to accept our offer, but before you throw our expensive direct mail package in with the trash, please read this.” It’s a last ditch attempt to get you to do what? To order, of course!

And did I mention one of the major roadblocks to using direct mail kits? Getting people to actually open the envelope in which all that stuff is stuffed. Unless there’s a “grabber” printed on the front of that envelope, a few choice words that make a recipient want to instantly tear open the envelope, that recipient, along with 98 percent of the others, will pitch their unopened envelopes in the waste basket. And, yes, there are specialists who get paid big bucks to right effective “grabber” words.

Is there a better way, a less expensive way, a more effective way to use the mail to sell an individual product or service? My suggestion, based on how well they seem to be working for a growing number of companies, is postcards. No, not those dinky little old-fashioned ones. I’m talking about really big postcards, giant postcards, living color postcards, even die-cut postcards, ones in the shapes of cars, or trucks, or cuddly kitty cats.

With these kinds of postcards, there’s no envelope that most be opened before an offer can be read. The message, whatever product, service or idea is being sold, will be right there in gorgeous living color for the world to see. And, because of limited space – a smaller “canvas” on which to paint a rosy word picture of the product or service – there will be fewer words for the recipient to read. Strange as it seems, people seem to avoid reading these days. They do, however, like colorful pictures.

Mailing list costs are the same for postcards or kits, but the cost of printing postcards will be significantly less. No longer in that $500 to $800 range. Less than half of that. Much less. So, if you want to be a real standout in someone’s mail box, testing several types of postcards could be worth your effort. Testing, after all, is a large part of what marketing is all about.