Direct-Mail-in-article.pngby Robert Lerose.


Though many entrepreneurs are now engaging in a mad dash to find and connect with customers through online marketing and social media, this rush to embrace all things digital may cause a small business owner to overlook a tried-and-still-true way to prospect for customers and convert sales: direct mail. “It’s guaranteed to get into a person’s mailbox. You have 100-percent deliverability, whereas with email you don’t,” notes Heather Snead, Mailing Solutions Specialist with the U.S. Postal Service.


Business owners report a distinct advantage in putting something real in customers’ hands, too. Add that to the variety of formats and emotional “in your face” visuals that direct mail provides and you get a marketing channel that offers enhanced creativity and hard revenue generation that e-based applications can’t often match.


Because the analytics for measuring the ROI of social media are still evolving, it’s hard to get an apples-to-apples comparison between direct mail and the new digital communication tools. So while some evidence seems to suggest that the ROI for email is higher, such analysis often fails to adequately address the paucity of reliable email lists and ongoing issues with spam. Nonetheless, one conclusion almost all the experts support is this: Companies that have an integrated direct mail/email strategy get better results than those using only one method.


Giving customers something tangible

Randy O’Neill, senior vice president of Lancer Insurance Company, uses direct mail to reinforce his company’s brand. “We’re the largest specialty insurer of passenger transportation companies in the country. The commercial transportation business is primarily a small business/family environment that we’re operating in. We like to have people actually see, feel, and touch our materials. We can do that much better through direct mail.”


To reach owners of small limousine services, O’Neill says his company launched a three-pronged campaign that included email and two types of mailers: a postcard and a more interactive piece with a tear-off. “They can return the piece in a fold-over secure envelope that we provide,” O’Neill says, explaining that some of the information his mailer asks for is somewhat sensitive.


In addition, O’Neill says his goal has been to simplify the look and size of the mailers, while offering the recipients multiple ways to connect. “We’re actually using the mailing pieces as both a billboard and an information vehicle. It provides the various response options we’re looking for, whether it’s [calling] a traditional 800 number, sending the piece back, or driving them to our website.”


Cut through the clutter with humor

“Direct mail provides you the opportunity to forge relationships with your target audience,” says Mike Palm, vice president of sales and marketing for CRP Industries, a family-managed company that sells industrial and automotive products to distributors. “Direct mail fuels and feeds the pipeline for us and helps us qualify leads.”


The tangibility of direct mail also allows for different formats and creative approaches. All it takes is a little imagination, as Palm discovered with a recent campaign to sell a high-pressure thermoplastic hose that his company had been marketing for over 25 years. Most of their sales volume for this specialty item came from the airless paint spray industry, but despite a concerted effort to sell to other markets, the company couldn’t break through. “A lot of these people are owner/operators of their businesses. We wanted to communicate our [unique selling proposition], the attributes that CRP delivers, that we ship in 24 hours—but we couldn’t cut through the clutter.”


CRP’s advertising agency recommended sending dimensional mailers that used humor to 250 distributors of specific industrial products, a new segment for customer development that CRP had been trying to crack. 


“We did three mailings of these boxes. In the first mailing, we sent an empty box with just a product catalog inside. The outside of the box said: ‘If you’d ordered a hose from us yesterday, it would have been inside this box today.’”


Mobile_Barcode_Promotion.pngTwo different boxes with humorous contents and a postcard campaign followed. “We saw a

31-percent increase in sales,” Palm says. “We dramatically shortened our typical sales cycle and closed on three new customers in less than three months. And we had over 50-percent aided recall of this campaign. It was a huge success.”


Whereas the average customer in CRP’s traditional market segment will spend $2,000 per year, the customers in this new market will spend more than $6,000 per year; in many cases, as much as $10,000 to $20,000 per year.


Not only did CRP generate hundreds of thousands of dollars of sales from this new market, but their ROI was also at least 3 times greater than what they had achieved with their traditional airless paint spray market segment.


Lead generation with postcards that pop

Measurable Solutions, a consulting and training company that also delivers seminars to business owners, put together a postcard campaign to generate interest in a marketing course for health professionals. “We put a success story on the postcard from a physician who had done the course as well as his upswing in patient visits,” says Jeff Lee, CEO and co-founder of Measurable Solutions. “Prospects listen more closely when someone else says it. We had approximately 75 calls in one week from a 5,000-piece mailing,” for a 1.5-percent response rate. (A response rate between one and three percent is considered an acceptable return in direct mail.) 


Lee says that weekly postcards combined with a monthly newsletter were the right marketing mix in his case. Before his company mounts a campaign, it does live surveys with the target market to come up with gripping sales pieces. “You need a message that grabs them by the eyeballs, and you’ve got to tell them to call you or they won’t do it.”


In one campaign, Lee found that health professionals wanted new patients. The postcard headline read “Get New Patients Out The Wazoo!” accompanied by a success story/testimonial by a client. Another headline that worked:  “Is your business controlling you or are you in control of your business?” A commanding but simple “Call Now!” or “Schedule Now!” was a sufficient call to action.


The bottom line

Besides offering the potential of forging a genuine emotional connection through the use of creative formatting and attention-getting messages, direct mail also gives business owners something that no other marketing channel does: a real item that prospects can touch and see. “[Direct mail] gives you the opportunity to have a relationship with a very targeted audience,” CRP’s Palm says. As a result, it allows an entrepreneur to take more creative and conceptual risks, which, in turn, can reap higher rewards.