Direct mail is back! Although, it never really left. Direct mail has, however, evolved and is once again a strategic marketing tool.

You may be wondering, “Why would I use print marketing when I have email and social media?” The answer is twofold. First, it can be an impactful method for connecting with prospective customers. Second, following the old cliché to “be where your clients are” is critical for successful marketing. Direct mail gives your potential customers something tangible rather than a message on a screen. Those who are overwhelmed with electronic messaging have started to ignore a lot of digital content.

If executed properly, direct mail can provide a high ROI. Here are a few ways to make your direct-mail marketing interesting and drive the ROI you want:

Don’t Buy Lists

Purchased lists are always a gamble. Sure, it sounds like a great idea to buy the contact information of people in your target area or who have expressed interest in your industry. But collecting this information organically will yield better performance. Think about these examples from your own perspective:

Example 1: One afternoon, you find a credit card offer in the mail from Discover, but you’re certain you’ve never even visited their website, much less given them your mailing address. What do you do? You throw the letter in the trash. Why? Because there is no real personal connection with that company. They have your information, but they didn’t get it from you.

Example 2: One afternoon, you get a postcard from your favorite apparel retailer. You’ve ordered online from them before and willingly provided your address so they could ship you your new jacket. Interested, you look over the mailer to check out the new products and look for a coupon. Why not? You’re already very familiar with and even fond of this company.

The best (and, in my opinion, only) way to have a positive impact through direct mail is to create your mailing list organically. Start with a special offer that requires contact information in exchange. Just be sure the offer is valuable to your audience.

Note: There are times when buying a list can be effective. Generally, partnering with a magazine or other publishing company can provide organized and targeted mailing lists. Be sure to choose your partner wisely.

Give People Something They Actually Care About

For direct-mail marketing to yield a high return, you must be willing to give up a little profit for the potential of higher purchase volume and impulse buys. As we often say at 212, “You’ve got to spend money to make money.”

The key here is to entice customers with something they truly desire in an effort to pull them into your store or to your website. Let me tell you: 10% off is not enough. In fact, it’s often regarded as joke and makes your company look cheap. Be willing to sacrifice something.

Victoria’s Secret is a great example of doing direct mail well. My wife gets at least one or two postcards a month offering her something for free. Yes, free. To claim it, though, she must visit their website, log in to her account, and enter a special code. Can you guess what she sees the entire time she’s on the website? Other products that are recommended for her—everywhere. They even show her size, colors she ordered in the past, and items to complement her previous purchases. Most of the time she ends up “just buying a few things” because she “saved money” with her free coupon, and she just couldn’t resist how cute the other items were.

Learn from Victoria’s Secret. If my wife had received a “10% off your order” coupon, I can guarantee she’d have never even considered buying. The deal wouldn’t be worth it, but claiming something free is definitely worth her time. If you can’t give away freebies, at least send a valuable coupon (that’s more than 20% off) to get people moving to buy your product.

Make Your Mailer Visually Interesting

It sounds simple, right? Just like everything else in marketing, your mailer has to stand out against all the junk mail in your customer’s mailbox. Fortunately, unlike with email marketing, you get the benefit of the reader physically seeing your ad, rather than just an email subject line. Take advantage of that.

Send a well designed postcard with appealing colors, easily recognizable as your brand. Add images of “real people” showing their joy with your product line or thanking your service technician. Make sure the discount coupon or offer is prominent. Today’s shorter attention spans require quick and concise content.

And, please, never send something inside a white envelope. If I get a plain envelope that’s not a bill or from my insurance company, I literally tear it in half and throw it away without any concern for what’s inside. If you use an envelope, choose a custom design or a unique size.

Use Customized and Variable Data

Personalization is everything in today’s marketing world, especially if your target demographic is Millennials. But Millennials aren’t the only ones who appreciate when you go the extra mile to make them feel important. It is no different from a five-star hotel staff calling you by your name or your server at your favorite restaurant remembering your “usual.” Personalization takes advantage of the human tendency to love hearing one’s own name, or to think only about one’s best interest.

Use the customer’s first name on your mailer—or add extra information, like his city or street name. One example could be a large retailer like Wal-Mart trying to connect with its local community. The postcard could read:

Dustin, we have a great deal on Scotts Lawn Seed this week. Save $20 with this coupon and have the best lawn on Persimmon Lane.”

Ultimately, this note is addressed to me and plays to my desire to have a great yard. It also inspires a sense of competition and pride to have a greener lawn than my neighbors.

If you haven’t used this method yet, mention “variable data” to your printing house of choice; they should know what to do.

Keep Messages Definitive and Consistent

The final way to make sure your direct mail is interesting and drives ROI is to keep it consistent with everything else you do. Send a concise, complete message.

Your direct mailer should match the message of your social media, billboards, emails, TV commercials, etc. This isn’t to say that each piece must feature the same words or images, but they should all be visually organized within your branding—and easily recognized as being from you.

Final Thoughts

Direct-mail marketing has been given a bad reputation for being ineffective. Unfortunately, because of poor strategy, bad design, and over-sending, marketers have desensitized people to direct mail. Too often a mailer is a “one-off” piece that’s sent to a purchased list and doesn’t appeal to the wants and needs of the audience.

It’s time to break the cycle. Skip the plain envelope, put together a creative and concise design, provide an offer that your customer actually wants, and personalize your message. You can change the stereotype that direct mail provides no ROI.

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