Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The 4 Rules of Direct Marketing: Ignore them at your own risk

I think we can agree that direct marketing is complicated. It’s a mix of strategy, psychology, technology, with a modicum of just luck thrown in for seasoning. But it essentially all boils down to 4 rules that can make—or break—your mailing.

Much as Boris Pasternak said of families in Dr. Zhivago, (All happy families are alike; unhappy families are different, each in its own way), all successful marketing efforts have 4 things going for them. All unsuccessful marketing has violated one (or more) of the rules.

Stand  out in the crowd.

Rule #1. What does your mail (or e-mail) LOOK like? Does it stand out in the crowd? Are the colors and design attractive? Does it “catch the eye” right away? Catching the eye is good—it gives your promotion that little extra millisecond in someone’s hand—a millisecond that could be enough to advance your mailing to rule #2.

If mail, is it big enough? If your mail is so small that the carrier hides it inside a missing kids flyer, then your mail is lost. If your mail is buried with 50 other advertisers, it is not doing what it could—what it should—do for you. It’s violated Rule #1.

Violate Rule #1, and you’ve lost the race at the starting gate. People have to see your offer before they can respond to it.

Stand out in the crowd.

Rule #2. Does your promotion SPEAK to the recipient? Does it catch attention with a good headline, or teaser, or an offer that a recipient can’t refuse? Does it make recipients want to read further? (more on great hooks another day). Does it recognize the recipient’s needs/wants/concerns? Is the message more “you” than “me?” Are you reaching out to establish a relationship or just talking to yourself? Bottom line: are you speaking to the recipient?

If rule #1 engages the eye; rule #2 engages the brain. You need to analyze how you can best present your message to your audience. Succinctly. Cleverly. Pointedly.

If brevity is wit, less is often more. You want to present your information in such a way that recipients want to read more and know more about your organization/offer. You want them to want to open the email, or flip over the postcard and read on. You want to keep them engaged.

Violate Rule #2 and you’ve lost your audience. Your promo dies an ignominious death in the recycle pile or delete bin.

Stand  out in the crowd.

Rule #3. Are you addressing the right AUDIENCE? You could have the most beautifully designed and written piece, but if you’re sending it to the wrong people, they won’t care. Your campaign is over.

How do you find your audience? Go to someone who knows lists. There are 40,000+ lists on the rental market in the US. A reputable list broker like Paul&Partners will be able to steer you in the right direction.

The broadest—and cheapest—is a list of all addresses in the US. If you’re announcing a new restaurant in the neighborhood, this is the list for you. However, if you’re announcing a pricey new pre-school, then you need “selects” like household income, as well as presence (and age) of children. Your list got smaller, more targeted, and more expensive. And your marketing probably will be much more successful.

If you’re asking for contributions, go to contributor lists. (More on this huge subject another day, too.) There are also lists of people with specific medical ailments, and lists of publication subscribers. Lists of people who listen to certain genres of music…people who own (or rent) their home…what kind of car they drive…what they like to do in their spare time…if they’ve just married/divorced/had a child or retired…and about a million other details about their lives. Details you can use to find the exactly right people you need to address.

Business lists can tell you the industry, size of company, number of employees, annual billings, computer software they use, number of locations, and a multitude of other “selects” that you can use to define your market.

There are lists for everything. Approaching the right people is the lynchpin to marketing success. Analyze your message; define the audience that would be most receptive. Then call a list broker.

Stand out in the crowd.

Rule #4. TIMING. It sounds obvious, but you need to launch your marketing at the time when your message would be appropriate. Don’t send summer camp messages at Christmas. Duh!

But Rule #4 also has an evil doppelganger. You could do everything right, but then something happens outside your control and your mail fails.

A tornado comes out of the blue and destroys the town you just sent your mailing to…a hurricane devastates the city where you have been planning to have your annual meeting…a blizzard, flood or fire seizes the headlines, hearts and wallets of people. Your marketing, no matter how ingenious or clever, doesn’t have a chance.

Those outside influences needn’t stop with weather-related disasters. On a macro scale, geopolitical events like invasions, wars, or unexpected emergencies large and small can refocus the mind and work against your campaign. On a micro scale, an unexpected illness or death of a family member or beloved pet, a car that just broke down for the last time, a really bad report card, or many other recipient-level disasters can doom your promotion household by household.

You can’t control everything all the time. Rule #4 is the “gotcha” factor. It’s Loki, the Norse god of mischief and mayhem, having his way with you.

Sometimes you just can’t win. But if you follow the rules, you’ll give your marketing the very best chance of being a success.

1 comment:

Tim Little said...

The best advice is to use what has worked in the past with your direct mail programs. Test different list segments and demographics you could easily double your response by doing so. Split test are simple to manage and any mailer can split mailings based on segmented lists.

Tim Little
Publisher, www.marketinglistbroker.com