12 Most Common Direct Mail Mistakes

12 Most Common Direct Mail Mistakes

Direct marketing is boring. It is possibly the least interesting way to market your business. While social media marketers get to talk about “conversation” and “engagement,” those of us in the direct marketing world are stuck talking about boring things like “sales” and “profits.”

What could be more boring than profits?

Direct marketing through the mail is even less sexy. With email and other electronic messaging platforms, at least you have the challenge of getting your message properly delivered. The postal service, especially first class postage, takes all of the fun guesswork out of direct marketing. Suddenly, the only reason your offer failed is because your offer sucked. You don’t want that kind of accountability, do you?

If you are determined to use direct mail, and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to just put together another fun video for your three dozen YouTube fans, here are the 12 most common mistakes you should avoid.

1. The special occasion postcard

If you ran into me on the street, would you know my name? If not, feel free not to send me a special offer for my birthday. “50% off my first dry-cleaning,” just for me?! You shouldn’t have. No really, you shouldn’t have. Your insult has made me determined to never give your establishment a try. Ever.

2. One & done

Social media marketers are always gushing about “engaging” your prospects and customers. Direct marketers know most of the benefits of “engaging” with your target market comes from brand awareness and credibility. You may know your target market extremely well, but they don’t know you, and they probably don’t care to get to know you. Consider three mailings to the same list the minimum frequency acceptable, and with rare exception, give-up and move on after seven contacts.

3. Weak headlines

There are three types of readers: those that scan, those that read from beginning to end, and those that scan and then read from beginning to end. The one thing all three types of readers are sure to read is your headline. If you spend six hours writing your copy, at least three of those hours should be spent on your headline.

4. Using stock graphic design

All those online printing vendors that offer stock postcard and letter designs have one thing in common: none of them are customized for your brand or your target audience. This campaign might be the first impression of your business for the recipient. You should hire a graphic designer to make the first impression a good one.

5. Multiple calls to action

Thanks to the QR code junkies, this issue is back! A good direct mailing has ONE call to action. A postcard with the command “Call today to reserve your seat! Space is limited,” has a great call to action. The same command, accompanied by a huge QR code is a mess of confusion for the consumer.

6. Multiple offers

You send a mailer with four coupons: 50% off of product A, 25% off of product B, BOGO for product C, and 15% off any item. Your mailer just went from being an offer to being junk mail. It is now in my kitchen trash can, unconsidered and unremembered. Give me one product and one price to consider. I am not interested in “discovering” what is best for me, I need you to tell me.

7. The non-promotion promotion

I buy things at full price every day. You don’t have to offer a discount to sell me a product or service I legitimately want. If you provide great value every day, I am happy to buy from you. A weak discount will hurt your response rate. 10% off is the equivalent of saying “please buy from me, please, please, please!” Offer a motivating discount, or stick with your original value statement.

8. Missing social proof

Ahh, I see the social media marketers salivating. Sorry gang, I don’t mean putting a link to your Facebook page in your letter. You offer does, however, need some form of social proof to validate my interest in buying from you. Tell me about the thousands of other local customers you already have. Grab my attention with a relevant and unedited testimonial from someone just like me. Inform me that you have been a growing business for decades.

9. Distracting grammar or graphics

Nothing should get between the me and your offer. Graphics can be too fancy. Spelling errors destroy credibility. That HUGE logo you put across the top of your postcard sure makes it hard for me to focus on anything else. Anything that distracts from the message must be fixed.

10. Humor

Repeat after me: “I am not funny.” Again: “I am not funny.” One more time, the repetition will help this stick, “I am not funny.” Did you say it aloud? Good. Never try to be funny via the mail.

11. Mentioning the competition

Small businesses make this mistake more often than national businesses, but even Fortune 500 companies make this mistake. You want to put the jerk across town out of business? Good for you! We could use a little more fighting spirit around here. Do me a favor, though? Do not mention other companies in your direct mail.

12. Skipping the self-mailing

Never send a mailer to a list of leads before you send a test version to yourself. You can mail your letter to your home or office from your local post office. Let your letter go through the normal process. Was your letter thrown away by your admin or spouse? You better make some changes. Did your letter stand out in the stack of mail? You can learn an awful lot by test mailing your piece to yourself.

Now you know the 12 most common direct mail mistakes. How many of these mistakes have you made? Tell me about your direct marketing experiences in the comments.

Featured image courtesy of Uzvards licensed via creative commons.

Jeremy Powers
After nearly a decade of branding and marketing for large companies, Jeremy is now Principal at Winding Staircase, where he wants to help you with marketing your company.

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Jeremy Powers

http://windingstaircasellc.com/

After nearly a decade of branding and marketing for large companies, Jeremy is now Principal at Winding Staircase, where he wants to help you with marketing your company.

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10 comments
spofcher
spofcher

Jeremy - I enjoyed your post.

#7: Really bugs me. Why would a company waste my time and their time with a weak offer. It is insulting. If a company is going to offer a promotion, then they should offer a PROMOTION!

Biebert
Biebert

What about MS Tags for #5? :-)

This is a good list of thing to think about if you're going to use direct mail.

DixieLil
DixieLil

@jpJeremy I really enjoyed reading your post. As someone who's cut their eyeteeth on direct mail advertiisng, I agree with all your points except #s 1 and 6. I think receiving a special occasion card appeals to the ego of the individual. Would I like a free dessert or drink on my birthday? Of course! As for #6 - I think it's essential to have more than 1 offer. What if I don't need an oil change; but I need new brakes? You're limiting the consumer's choices if you only include 1 offer.

MeghanMBiro
MeghanMBiro

Hi Jeremy! Ah direct mail. This is definitely a sleeper topic for some. Congratulations on making this interesting and informative to read. I learned something new today.

#10 - Agreed. So interesting! Why does humor never work via snail mail? Let's dicuss here. Thank you.

pbehnia
pbehnia

I enjoyed reading this... I come from a long line of direct mail (from back in the day) and I'm still shocked by how bad some of it still is! If you're going to expend the time, effort and energy, then please, for the love of all that is holy, do it right the first time around... we don't get that second chance at a first impression!

jpJeremy
jpJeremy

@spofcher or reinforce the value of the original offer. The primary purpose of a promotion in the mail is to create a sense of urgency. "Offer good until this Friday, you snooze, you lose." If the discount does not create a fear of lost opportunity, it fails.

Thanks for the comment! I am glad to see 12 Most readers are still finding this article.

jpJeremy
jpJeremy

@Biebert Nope, I have to stand by my original point. ;)

I admit to being surprised by the continued use of mobile marketing calls-to-action, especially in long form direct mail. Your sales letter either catches my attention or goes in the garbage within seconds.

jpJeremy
jpJeremy

@DixieLil I'll stand by both, but with some additional notes:

#1 - If you are a loyal patron of a business, I see no reason for them not to send you a birthday special. However, as my example notes, a "first time purchase special" for my birthday means two things: 1 - You want me to buy from you as part of my birthday. 2 - You have purchased personal data about me from a databank, and as a consumer, I find that creepy.

#6 - Effective direct mail is efficient direct mail. Spray and pray was affordable in past decades, but it is not anymore. If you don't know/think that I need your one offer, don't include me on the list. Oil changes and brake jobs are both examples of predictable needs for existing clientele, and that is who I would target first. (Maximize existing)

Thanks for the comments. Our experiences sound slightly different, but that is likely because I primarily work with long-form direct marketing for premium-priced and/or custom products. I will admit, I have less experience with postcards, except as part of a series that builds to the offer.

There must be some value to multiple offers for commoditized services, because I get an awful lot of postcards from my local Valvoline shop. ;)

jpJeremy
jpJeremy

@MeghanMBiro Regarding humor, even comedians are not funny to everyone. There are at least 7 different "styles" of humor, and most people only appreciate 1 or 2 styles. Using humor, even good humor, means you are alienating the majority of your audience.

Plus..... most people are not nearly as funny as they imagine..... ;)

jpJeremy
jpJeremy

@pbehnia Your point about a first impression is important. Like it or not, most businesses make the first impression through direct marketing, advertising, or the web.

Business owners should not discount the importance of EVERY touch point of their business being as professional and friendly as possible.

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