Direct mail is a bit like today’s Olympians; they both require a higher level of performance and steadfast effort to secure a medal and a position on the podium. As time passes, new competition arrives to set the bar even higher. Just like direct mail, pushing the envelope (pun intended) to achieve greatness takes work, strategy, and practice. Delivering noteworthy direct mail involves raising the bar, applying a well-defined strategy, and performing a solid execution. For a simple analogy, consider a gymnast that is competing on the balance beam — this gymnast can no longer expect to get noticed with a simple flip for the dismount. The same is true for marketing — merely sending a letter, package, brochure, or postcard to a large audience will not get noticed or yield the desired returns.

Creating a Successful Direct Mail Campaign

Businesses that are not mindful of how to create a compelling piece of direct mail will likely fail to capture the benefits that it can offer. So how exactly do you earn a spot on the podium? One of the most critical elements of a successful direct mail program is starting with a clear vision of what you want to achieve. The obvious goal of a direct mail campaign is to achieve brand awareness and gain market share, but there’s more to the equation. To be effective, you must develop a solid understanding of who your ideal customers are, their communication preferences, where they hang out, and what influences their buying habits. This information will set the stage for developing direct mail that gets noticed.

Even in today’s digital age, direct mail remains one of the most widely used forms of customer communications. Although direct mail’s response rates have declined over the past few years, it still gets noticed. In fact, data from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) found the average response rate for direct mail is 4.4% — compared to a mere 0.12% for e-mail.

Multiple Touches Matter

According to recent research from Keypoint Intelligence, consumers actually want the brands that they do business with to reach out to them. As shown in the chart below, the greatest share of consumer respondents must receive two or three marketing messages before they take action. This was true for print as well as digital channels.

Figure 1: Number of Marketing Messages Required to Take Action

As you develop your direct mail campaigns, you must plan for multiple touchpoints if you hope to reach your audience. Deciding on the number of communications that will be sent ahead of time can make it easier to design and deliver messages that resonate.

The Power of Segmentation

By identifying subgroups within your targeted audience, you can deliver more meaningful and tailored direct mail messages. Some of the more popular categories for segmentation include age, gender, income, geographic location, employment status, and marital status.

In the past, it might have been acceptable to use one message and one design for everyone on your mailing list. To be sure, this was the cheapest and most efficient option. In today’s market, though, a “one size fits all” approach simply won’t cut it. Consumers expect the companies that they do business with to treat them as individuals, so marketers must adopt a new way of thinking when developing their direct mail. Fortunately, the digital and inkjet presses on the market make it easy to create targeted direct mail pieces that are truly relevant to the recipient.

Keypoint Intelligence’s research confirms that personalized and relevant content can be a huge influence in prompting consumers to read their direct mail. In fact, nearly half of consumers state that personalized and relevant content was the factor that made them most likely to read or review their printed mail. This should come as no surprise—a mailer promoting a serene, relaxing vacation destination will likely fall flat for an active family that is seeking excitement and entertainment.

Figure 2: Factors Involved in Reading/Reviewing Direct Mail

The chart above also shows that consumers cite a familiar and trusted sender as the second highest influencer of reading direct mail. This supports the earlier data point about gaining traction with multiple touchpoints. In marketing, familiarity comes with frequency.

Most importantly, the data in the previous chart demonstrates that personalized and relevant content is roughly three times more important than design/imagery and four times more important than interactivity. If you hope to attract attention with your direct mail, it is more important than ever before not to put your target audience in the same bucket as everyone else. So first things first — send offers that resonate with the recipient’s needs and interests, then enhance that experience with great design and engaging content.

With the proper foundation, print enhancements can also work well by breathing new life into an otherwise stagnant format. The use of unique colors or metallic elements, interesting paper textures, and creative finishing processes can generate a tactile and tangible experience between the brand and customer.

Effective direct mail must also include response mechanisms that are easy to use. Even the most beautifully designed marketing piece will fall short if it takes too much effort to engage and respond. Today’s technologies enable a quick and easy connection from a direct mail piece to a website or phone conversation. In addition, quick response (QR) codes can really nudge your audience to perform a desired call to action.

The Bottom Line

The deconstruction of a direct mail campaign points directly back to strategy. A solid strategy requires an understanding of what your target audience wants. Your direct mail piece could be a true work of art, but it will fail to pay dividends or move the needle if you haven’t already established an understanding of your ideal audience. Once you have this understanding, segment your images, messaging, and approach to connect with your audience in a meaningful way. With today’s production inkjet presses, marketers have more opportunity than ever to improve their dismount and really stick the landing.

Karen Kimerer of Keypoint Intelligence has experienced the many challenges of expanding current market opportunities and securing new business. She has developed a systematic approach to these opportunities, addressing the unique requirements of becoming a leader in our changing industry. She is well-versed in 1:1 marketing, web-to-print, direct mail, book publishing, supply chain management, data segmentation, channel integration, and photo products.

This article originally ran in the September/October, 2021 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.