Differentiating with Direct Mail

How many emails did you receive in your business account last week? How many from outside your company did you actually read? For those that you didn’t read, how long did it take you to determine an email was a pitch, ad or other promotion?

Email is a relatively cheap marketing tactic so companies of all sizes can use it to target potential customers. And that’s pretty obvious by the volume of junk that comes our way—day and night!

If you are anything like me, you get hundreds of offers, updates and notifications a day and read somewhere between one and five percent of them. Even when I have “time” on the weekends or while standing in line using my phone, I’ve just run out of patience for the same old stuff in the same old way.

When I get snail mail, I’m also discriminating but actually open many of the envelopes. The reason is that I’m taking a break once per day to read my mail but am trying to work all while the emails roll in as interruptions.

We also use email at Affinity Express but have been leveraging direct mail more frequently in the past two years. It is more expensive in terms of production, materials and postage but it can be a tremendously effective if you use it selectively and follow these tips.

1. Differentiate in in-boxes

Think about every aspect of your communication and make it different.

  • If you are using the same old number ten envelope, you are going to blend in with bills and other messages. I’d suggest a large envelope—good things do come in large packages and I’m more likely to open the bigger stuff.
  • Some people are proponents of hand-written addresses but I personally don’t think anybody really buys this tactic.
  • I’m not a fan of adding messages on the outside of the envelopes (e.g., “Important offer enclosed!”) because you’re basically saying, “Hey, this is junk mail so be sure to toss it without opening.”
  • Be honest with the return address. You don’t have to scream your company name but I don’t agree with hiding who you are and tricking someone into opening mail.
  • Sending via FedEx or other express shipping option can work (larger envelopes again). I will at least open these and give them a look.

We send direct mail to various retailers and use a larger envelope. We’ve got our return address and the contacts’ info neatly and professionally printed. We may or may not send express mail but we haven’t seen a dramatic difference in response rates.

Sample retail flyer created by Affinity Express

2. Communicate effectively

Make it easy to grasp and consider your offer. I’m looking to find reasons to throw out your mail as quickly as possible. If I can’t figure out what you do or care about the call to action, I’m going to shred without hesitation. You have very little time to engage.

For us, this is a bit of a challenge because who understands right away what “advertising and marketing production solutions” are? We want prospects to see that Affinity Express is new and different ways to execute marketing campaigns. That’s why we try to draw them in with the benefits or the pain points. We also use the words of the contact, articles written about him or her, awards won and so on.

The piece below was created by our team for a client. If I received this, I would save it! All the required info is provided and highlighted appropriately. The image is great, 24-hour service is critical and the phone number that is a cell phone is huge. When you live the snow nightmare for several months of every year, you know “Bobby” gets it! And this promotion was not expensive to design and print.

Direct Mail for Snowplowing Service

3. Use design to enhance messages

A clunky, crowded, ugly design will end up in the trash. Consider aesthetics like color, fonts, balance, white space, etc. Ideally, you should guide the eye through the most important points because virtually no one reads all the content. To get through to most readers, include: 1) a large bold headline, 2) a colorful image that tells a story and 3) a call to action that is easy to find tied to a phone number/email address.

We try to create designs so striking and attractive that people have to slow down and look. For a cosmetics company, we created an ad in the prospect’s style and made our logo into what looked like an eye shadow palette. The contact could then follow the supporting elements in the design to understand our services. Wouldn’t you be intrigued by a company that took the time to design something specific to your brand?

Sample ad for cosmetics brand created by Affinity Express

4. Add a dimension

Direct mail doesn’t have to be flat or made of paper. I especially like getting items I can use or that solve a problem for me. Keep in mind, it takes something really special to get a place of honor on my desk (space is mostly reserved for the carved pencil holder and framed greeting cards Unmana sent me). But I do have a cool staple remover with a logo that I have kept around for 14 years. I actually get nervous if I can’t find it because nothing works as well.

Try to win a place of honor like this with your customers, whether your info belong on their desks, in their kitchens or in their cars. They will always know how and where to reach you and will think positively of your products and services. You know you are on the right track when someone calls to ask you for more of these items or to send them to other people they know.

5. Provide value

Give me information I need or something I desire, for example: whitepapers, survey results, free publications on interesting topics and so on. And to really use the medium, send something you can’t send via email. Remember that time is the most important thing in the world to me—don’t waste it or ask me to spend any on you without a significant reward.

Last year, when we did a mailing to news publishers, we shared a copy of the results of our survey on the use of digital services by small- to medium-sized businesses. It was a unique perspective not available anywhere else and it contained information relevant to the segment’s business and objectives. We gave this brief whitepaper away as a sign of good will and to demonstrate our expertise. All we asked in return was a phone call or an email to learn more . . . and it worked!

6. Target the right person

Review your list constantly to make sure you are reaching the right people or you are throwing your money away. Despite my marketing title, I get stuff for IT all the time and don’t bother to pass along junk. I also receive a letter from a local company at least once per month about having our roof in Elgin examined—Affinity Express doesn’t own the building! But my favorite is the mail I get for Max, my cat. He died last year but gets better credit card offers than I do.

Cat napping on chair

That's my cat, Max, who died last year

Direct mail addressed to cat

Max still gets credit card offers in the mail—this came last week.

7. Personalize

The more that you can show you know me, my pain points and my goals, the more likely you will attract my attention and I’ll weigh your offer.

What we do at Affinity Express is to learn as much as we can about a target account and the appropriate contact. Then we develop a design that celebrates their brand and shows our creativity. We do this because it catches attention quickly and demonstrates what we are trying to sell: advertising and marketing production services. Plus, it illustrates that we spent time and energy. When we want to do business with you, we leave no doubt.

For another major retailer, we created a circular with unmistakable layout and quirky copy style. Instead of describing products for sale, we discussed the features and benefits of our services. The design served as an example of what we can do for this company and others—customize our offerings for their specific needs.

When you sit down to think about your next direct marketing campaign, picture what I did when I came back from vacation. The pile of mail was overwhelming. Nevertheless, it took me about five minutes to get through it (while participating in a conference call). The only material that made it into the limited collection for further review was well-designed, well-written, understandable and valuable.

About Kelly Glass
Kelly has been vice president of Marketing at Affinity Express for nine years now. She drives company strategy and all marketing activities.

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