A Beginners Guide to Direct MarketingBy: John Harris-Burland
This guide is packed with tips and tactics to help you write successful sales letters and target your marketing campaigns for maximum response. You are taken from the basics of Direct Marketing, how to profile your targets, and develop prospect lists, through to the planning and writing of successful Marketing literature. A longer version of this guide can be found on the author's website the URL of which can be found at the head of this article.
Direct Marketing is direct to the customer. This includes Direct Response Advertising, email and Interactive Web Sites. However, the most common format is Direct Mail. In terms of overall expenditure, Direct Mail ranks as the third largest advertising technique in the UK.
Despite sometimes receiving negative press (often being referred to as "junk mail"), targeted direct mail is an effective and valuable form of marketing. On a cost-per-head basis it may sometimes appear more expensive than other forms of advertising but when you look at its unique advantages - its accuracy, testability, flexibility, personalisation etc - it can in fact turn into the MOST cost-effective form of communication.
Once you have decided to use Direct Mail, you must research to understand who your targets are in some detail.
Profile your existing customers. Look for any similarities between customers in terms of their type, regional distribution, age, economic characteristics etc. If you have only basic customer records, Upgrade any old records you have by consulting a database marketing company to add marketing information from their own extensive company database into yours. If you don’t have a customer base, use market research and your product/service USPs or Unique Selling Points to try to identify what types of people or companies would most benefit from your offering.
Next, Identify your "hottest" prospects. These are customers who return the most for your time and money investments. Next, look for any potential customers or groups that you could try to target that you haven’t already. If your customer base has any geographic bias, think about whether you want to maintain that bias or expand it. Finally, think about the individuals. Do you have a preferred profile of age, sex, occupation or job title. What responsibilities do you think they would have?
Locating New Prospects
Now you know who your potential customers are, you have to locate new prospects to target. The easiest way to locate new prospects is to buy or rent a mailing list.
Mailing lists are available directly from database marketing companies that specialize in business to business or consumer lists. List brokers broke many lists from many different sources. Many lists, especially consumers, are available through Internet groups. These databases are often compiled on an "opt in" basis where all consumers have freely submitted their data, interest areas etc.
As mentioned, lists can be rented for a one-time use only or purchased for multiple use. Lists can provide contact names, titles, company names, addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers and sometimes email addresses. Each element of information potentially adds cost so be clear as to what data you require before ordering.
e-mail addresses are currently a bone of contention within the Direct Marketing industry. Unless the company has indicated that they want to receive your e-mails (permission based or opt-in marketing) your e-mail may be considered as SPAM (unsolicited commercial e-mail) and can be the cause of your ISP being blacklisted or, at worst, court proceedings to be threatened. If you want to buy an e-mail list, be clear about the criteria under which it has been collected and how it can be used.
Define Your Campaign
Direct Marketing or Direct Mail has a clear advantage in that it allows you to measure exactly the response to your campaigns, their success and ROI (Return on Investment). Before you start you will need to be clear on what the objectives are of your campaign(s). A clearly-defined mission makes for a clear message to customers. Are you looking for direct, immediate sales? Do you want sales leads? Are you informing your customer about something new? Are you looking to change people’s perception of your product/service/company? Are you offering an incentive? It is vital that you know what you wish the successful outcome of your campaign to be.
Planning the Literature
You know your target customer. You are clear about the mission. Now at the heart of every Direct Mail shot is the sales letter. Whether you are emailing, faxing or posting. Whether you include coupons, reply-paid cards, brochures or leaflets, offers, gifts...it’s the sales material itself that provides the personal communication element. Although great sales letters don’t grow on trees, bad ones mostly fail through one or two simple and fundamental mistakes.
You can use experts to help such as Direct Marketing agencies but this this can be costly and time consuming. A simple sales letter which you can design and/or print in house may work just as well for you. Five key points to remember in creating the marketing literature are simplicity and clarity in the language and message, enthusiasm and belief in your product, empathy towards your audience, imagination and creativity in your style and "Call to Action" to let your customers know what to do next.
Remember that a product or service is seen for what it does for the buyer, not what it IS. Work to the FAB rule. Write down the Features of your product/service. Then write the Advantages. Now focus on communicating simply the Benefits that arise from these in your Direct Marketing material.
Make your FABs relevant to the readers’ needs/wants/ambitions. Look for Exclusive or Unique aspects. Make it Worthwhile and Valuable. Support your proposition with credible evidence or testimonial.
Research, research, research. You don’t have to go it alone. What are your competition doing? If you received their mailshots, would they work for you? Collect and review the Direct Marketing that you receive. Learn from their mistakes as well as harvesting their best features for your own campaigns.
Call to Action
A great sales letter does not necessarily lead to great sales. It’s amazing how many otherwise passable sales letters leave the reader floundering as to exactly what’s expected of them after they’ve read the letter.
Be precise and clear in what you want them to do. Direct the recipient to the required actions. Make it as easy and as quick as possible for them to respond by including such items as direct ordering forms with preprinted names and addresses, fax back sheets, response mailers (reply paid), hyperlink click-throughs for e-mails.
The Nitty Gritty
This is it. The time to put pen to paper. You should be clear on all your objectives, output formats, target customers, FABs, mechanisms for reply, etc. Now you have to make it all happen. There are a number of simple techniques or formulae designed to help you approach a sales letter logically. They are not intended as a ‘straitjacket’, merely as a guide to ensure you cover the right points in the right order.
Wavelength. Readers decide to read or junk a letter, fax or e-mail in about the first 5 seconds. That’s the length of time you have to grab and hold them...or lose them forever. The most effective way to grab them is to show that you’re on the same WAVELENGTH as they are. Get on their wavelength right away - with your first headline or sentence or message topic for an e-mail.
Interest. Or more importantly, holding it! Use some surprising or intriguing facts relevant to your product or service. Make sure you are talking about the reader’s problem, need or opportunity, not about your company or product.
Salespoints. This is the 'Big Promise' answer to the reader’s ‘what’s in it for me?’ question. Back it up with as many subsidiary salespoints as you can without confusing the main issue.
Conviction. Support your Big Promise with evidence - market research, customer response, lab tests, testimonials from experts. Try and anticipate the audience’s doubts or questions, and answer them, don’t sidestep them.
Desire. Merely informing your reader of the facts isn’t enough. Since we’re all human, it helps to involve our emotions as well as our mind. Even the most practical or technical product can make the user feel better or more successful or more secure. So help them turn that conviction into desire for your product or service.
Action. Provoke strong, clear action from the reader. Many readers may mean to reply: it’s only the ones who actually do that produce your results.
It's All About Style
It’s not what you say - it’s the way that you say it. The actual style will depend very much on your product and customer type. Some of the biggest expenditure Direct Mail campaigns you will see push the creative boundaries as far as they will go. Sometimes they push them too far and fail to communicate the message effectively to their customers. Don’t let your message get lost in the rest of the design.
Be personal. Committees don’t write personal letters, individuals do. Don’t be afraid to use ‘I’ and even more important ‘You’ rather than third-party expressions like ‘This company’ or ‘customers’. Write as you would talk. Sales letters are meant to be clear, easy and friendly. Take just as long as it needs to tell your story. If it’s a complex technical matter, don’t be afraid to take the time to explain it properly but remember to keep it interesting all the way through. Use active not passive words. Not ‘Deliveries within 3 days’ but ‘We’ll rush it to you within 72 hours".
Now circulate your material. Show friends, colleagues and even existing customers. Get their views or comments and be prepared to adapt your communications.
Wrapping it All Up
The actual physical nature of your package can help to produce results too. For Direct Mail through the post, don’t forget the envelope. Use the outside to whet the reader’s appetite. Hint at what the offer is, who the letter should go to, and why.
Think about who else might see the material first. One successful letter to senior managers put a shorthand note to their secretary on the outside. Another was posted from abroad with foreign stamp and postmark - to create extra interest for an export service.
Raise your mailshot above the herd with some element of surprise or originality. Altering the promotional offer can make a huge difference.
If posting, consider when. Items received on a Monday or Friday for instance, may not receive the same amount of attention as a package received in midweek. Or consider ‘tying in’ with some special event as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, the anniversary of Waterloo(!) etc.
Record who replied and to what message or offer. This will help you fine tune both your message and your mailing list.
As so much planning goes into what communication you are sending out, ensure you leave enough time to plan what you will do with the successful outcome. Having spent so much effort getting customers, don’t lose them again through poor response or customer service. Don't be caught in a trap by failing to acknowledge replies, responding too slowly, running out of leaflets...and so on. Few campaigns work entirely alone so plan to follow them up with a second letter, a phone call, a visit, a follow-up e-mail or faxshot.
© Copyright 2006, John Harris-Burland