Direct Mail Basics

Using Direct Mail To Build Business

by Janet Attard

The US Postal service, which delivers 182 billion pieces of mail annually, estimates that one type of business mail alone — bulk business mail — accounts for 55 to 60 percent of its revenue.

Much of that bulk mail is made up of catalogs, advertising circulars and direct mail campaigns sent out by experienced direct mailers who know from years of experience that direct mail gives them the best bang for their advertising bucks.

Small businesses that attempt to do bulk mailings are often disappointed, however. Despite the relatively low cost-per-contact associated with direct mail, small and home businesses often get dismal results when they attempt to do large mailings. If you find yourself in that position, these strategies will help you get maximum mileage from the money you spend on mailings.

Don’t do a large mass mailing if you have a micro-sized budget
Don’t assume a single mass mailing will bring a flood of business to your door. Usually it won’t.

A chiropractor located near Chicago learned that the hard way. He wanted to jump-start his new practice, so he spent several thousand dollars to create, print and mail a brochure extolling the benefits of chiropractic and offering a free spinal examination. The flier was mailed to 5,000 homeowners within driving distance of his office. To his dismay he got only 5 inquiries from the mailing, and only one of those actually came in for the free examination.

The chiropractor’s experience is unfortunately common. Loosely targeted bulk mailings simply don’t work for most small business. Residential mailings often bring only a 1/10th of a percent response rate (1 in 1000). Work out the numbers before you do a mailing. If your total cost for the mailing (list rental, postage, printing) comes to $1.00 per name and if your mailing produces 5 new customers, each customer will need to spend $1,000 before you break even. If you get 5 inquiries and only one becomes a customer, that one customer would need to spend $5,000 just for you to break even on the cost of the mailing.

Focus on the three Ms when using the mail to market your product or service
There are a wide range of factors that ultimately effect the response you get from mailings. But underlying them all are the three Ms of success mail marketing:

The Market – the number of identifiable people who need or desire the product or service enough to be willing to make a purchase

The Message – The words and images and special offers used to get attention and get customers to take action now

The Mailing List – The actual people who receive a mailing and how closely those people match up to the types of people who are known to have a need or desire for the product or service.

Where small businesses usually go wrong is by failing to get those three Ms in sync. To get good results from a mailing, you need to send a compelling message to a carefully selected list of people who are likely to need or desire your product or service and have the means to acquire it now.

Test every element of your mailing before doing a large mailing
Don’t even consider sending bulk mail until you have done a series of smaller mailings to determine the effectiveness of your mailing piece and your mailing list.

Test a mailing list before you send out a large mailing to determine how current the names on the list are and how responsive the list will be. To test a list, ask the list broker for an Nth name selection. This is the term used in the mailing list industry to indicate names are selected on a fractional basis, (every nth name in the master list is selected.). This gives you a random selection of names that will most accurately reflect what the response rate will be if you mail to the entire list.

If the mailing doesn’t get much response and the addresses were deliverable, change your headline or your offer and do another small mailing. See how the response compares. Keep testing with small samples until you have a good handle on what copy, offers and lists work best for you.

Note: test only one thing at a time. If you make two or more changes and there is a difference in results, you won’t know which change caused the difference.

Build your business with small mailings to a hand-picked list of prospects
Instead of a mass mailing, send very small mailings to a list of hand-chosen individuals who are likely to have an interest in what you sell. These individuals may be promising new prospects, or existing customers who you expect to make additional purchases. The more closely your sales offer matches their specific interests, the better your response rate will be. For instance, if you own a pet store, a mailing announcing a sale on scratching posts for cats will get a much higher response rate if you send it only to cat owners than it will if you send it to all pet owners. In fact, highly targeted mailings often have a response rate of 2 to 3% (or higher for mailing to existing satisfied customers).

Create your mailing with a specific objective in mind
Many mailing fail because the mailing doesn’t make it clear what the recipient should do after reading the mailing piece. They either don’t tell the reader to take action, or suggest too many different things for the reader to do. To make your mailing profitable, have one specific objective in mind and build the mailing piece around that one objective. Some examples are:

  • Get the customer to place an order
  • Get the customer to visit your store or office
  • Promote an inventory clearance sale
  • Get leads for a sales staff to pursue
  • Get customers to call for information about consulting or other services
  • Get the customer or patient to make an appointment for routine maintenance or annual checkup
  • Create name recognition
  • Ask the customer for referrals
  • Ask for testimonials
  • Announce the relocation of an office or and/or a phone number change.

Before you send the mailing off to be printed give the text to several people who will be totally honest and ask them to tell you what action the mailing piece is asking them to take.

Plan on repeated mailings to prospects
Don’t stop at one mailing. Send mailings at monthly intervals to the same list of prospects even if they don’t respond initially. The repetition will help build name recognition for you and increase the chances that your marketing materials will be on hand when the customer or prospect develops a need for what you sell.

Reprinted from Business Know-How: An Operational Guide for Home-based and Micro-sized Businesses
Adams Media,
Copyright 2000 Janet Attard

About the author
Janet Attard is the owner of Attard Communications, Inc., which provides editorial content, online community and web development services. She is the founder of the award-winning  Business Know-How small business web site and information resource. Janet is also the author of The Home Office And Small Business Answer Book and of Business Know-How: An Operational Guide For Home-Based and Micro-Sized Businesses with Limited Budgets.  She can be reached at (631) 467-6826 or by email at [email protected].

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