Marketing - targeting

5 reasons direct marketing doesn’t work

I’m prepared to bet that most people reading this blog have tried direct mail or email marketing at some point. Although not normally a gambler, I’m also willing to wager that 9 out of 10 who say they’ve tried it will also say it didn’t work. That’s certainly the experience I have when I speak to business owners and prospective clients.

Fortunately, the reasons direct mail doesn’t tend to work can be addressed by following a few simple rules. So, if you are considering using a direct approach, whether that’s through the mail or via email these five reasons why direct mail doesn’t work will inform your thinking for next time.

Reasons direct mail doesn’t work…and what you can do to make sure it does

1.    Doing it for the wrong reasons

All too common unfortunately but we all, at some stage in our business career, are told by others we simply MUST try something, without really being sure why.  Just think about it, how many people have a Twitter account but don’t really know why? How many professional firms advertise in Yellow Pages although fewer and fewer people use Yellow Pages to source advisors? How many businesses have a website without knowing what they are hoping to achieve by having a web presence?

Direct mail is no different. If you’re using direct mail and don’t know why how can it possibly work?

As with any other marketing activity you undertake, set some goals, think about how this activity will fit with everything else you are doing and don’t be afraid to decide that it’s just not appropriate for your business.

2.    Writing to the wrong people

In direct marketing, your list is everything. Whether you are buying a list of people to target from a legitimate source or you have a list of customers or prospects who’ve contacted you in the past you must make sure your list is as up to date and relevant as possible.

That means checking the name and job title on business lists, making sure the address or email address you use is accurate and making sure you have removed anyone who has indicated they don’t want to receive marketing communications from you. It also means making sure the people on your list are the decision makers. You don’t want to mail anyone unless you have a pretty good chance of reaching the right person.

Relevance is a lot trickier and it brings us back to the old chestnut of being very clear who you are targeting. For example, if you are a firm of accountants with a new online payroll service ideal for small and medium sized companies currently doing payroll in-house, you want to target businesses with a certain number of employees, so that your service is of value to them. You need to target businesses that are IT literate (and believe it or not there are still some out there that aren’t). And you should target businesses that can afford your service.  So, your service may not be relevant to a family run corner shop for example but might be very useful for a small retail chain with 4 or 5 shops employing 3 or 4 staff in each store.

The more targeted you can be with your list the more likely you are to be able to come up with a proposition that will appeal.

3.    Writing without thinking

If your letter or email is badly worded, contains errors or just plain isn’t interesting it won’t get read. Writing good direct mail letters and email marketing campaigns is a skill. Don’t expect to be able to delegate it to your secretary or the office junior. Unfortunately, in my experience most sales people aren’t great at writing direct mail communications either. Their killer, sales instinct means they forget the important stages they would normally go through when talking with a customer and expect to go straight in for the sell. Your letter or email needs to build that relationship.

Your headline is probably the most important part of any direct mail piece. Five times more people read the headline than read the body copy. But if there’s no BENEFIT in the headline 90% won’t read on.

Follow some of these simple rules to make your letters and emails more effective:

  • Use simple words and avoid jargon
  • Write like you talk, you’re trying to build a rapport so don’t be unnecessarily formal or stuffy
  • Read your copy out loud, if it sounds stilted it reads stilted
  • Make sure you are making a compelling offer. If all you are saying is ‘we do XYZ’ you’ve not really got a compelling enough message for direct mail

You’ve got a very limited amount of time to grab people’s attention, only once you’ve done that can you start to spark their interest and get them moving towards the action you want them to take. You’ve probably only got 3 or 4 seconds to get your reader’s attention, so make that time count.

4.    Failing to be clear on the action you want your reader to take

How many times have you received an email, a direct mail letter or even read a direct response advert in a newspaper and been left wondering what you were expected to do next?

Don’t make that mistake. Before you even start to write you should be very clear what you want your reader to do as a result. Do you want them to call you to book an appointment? Visit your website to find out more about a product? Register to attend an event? Email to place an order?

Direct mail is all about response. So, be very clear what action you want your reader to take and lead them along by the hand so that taking that action is easy.

5.    Forgetting the importance of timing (and repetition)

Have you ever responded to a piece of direct mail? I’d like to bet you have, at some point. Certainly, research back in 2010 into consumer direct mail showed that 48% of UK adults had acted as a result of DM they have received in the preceding 12 months.

Whilst selecting your target market carefully will go a long way to helping you succeed with direct mail, it’s only part of the picture. Go back to our example of the online payroll system. If you mailed 100 people – not all 100 will be in the market for a new payroll system on the day your mailer lands. Most will probably have other things on their mind or other priorities in their business, some will have just made changes, others won’t have a budget at that moment in time and so on.

So, what’s the biggest mistake you could make with those 100 people? Well, all other things being equal, assuming you’ve got a good product and have made a compelling offer, assuming you’ve got your target market right and the product is something they need or want (that is it solves problems they have or provides opportunities), then the biggest mistake you could make is to mail them only once. Some of the most effective direct mail campaigns include multiple mailings and follow up. Why? Because your chances of hitting someone the day they are ready to buy are relatively slim. Unless you are a well-known brand you’ll need to build familiarity before you are likely to garner response. You need to build a rapport over time.

If you are convinced your mailing list is well targeted and you have a compelling offer then it’s worth multiple mailings to that same list of 100 people.

Of course, you need to track responses carefully and look to test different aspects of your mailer too but if you’ve avoided these common mistakes you’ll certainly give your direct marketing a fighting chance of succeeding.

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Location: Stratford upon Avon