"The best message to the wrong
audience is worthless". Freeman F Gosden, Jr.,
President of a leading US direct response agency.
Promoting your business by direct mail means offering your
goods and services by post. Properly executed, direct mail
is arguably the most profitable marketing method of all.
Conversely, get it wrong and you could lose a great deal
So what does 'getting it right' involve? Most importantly,
you'll need to find out if direct mail is right for your
business. Ask yourself why you are considering this
marketing method: to reach new markets, to test prices and
profit margins, to reduce overheads, to research gaps in
the market? To establish suitability, do pilot tests and
evaluate these before you do a full-scale mailing. Make
sure your marketing methods and techniques achieve your
objectives. The importance of testing this and all other
aspects of your direct mail campaign can not be over
Benefits of Direct Mail
The many advantages include:
* Opens up new markets.
* Allows potential policy changes to be tested before
* Highly targetable. Direct mail allows you to select your
audience precisely, by name, profession, interests, postal
district, income, work, or other relevant characteristics.
* Power of the personalized message. It's almost
impossible to ignore personally addressed communications.
* Provides more information for prospects than traditional
* Response, and likely profits, can be tested and
predicted with reasonable accuracy. Response to a sample
testing should apply to the remainder of the list.
The Importance of Your Mailing List
The mailing list, not the package, is the single most
important feature of a successful direct mail campaign.
Ignore this and you could spend weeks, maybe months,
producing a perfect mailshot for an inappropriate
audience. In short, your campaign will almost certainly
Essentially there are two types of list:
* Your Own, comprising names and addresses compiled by
you. These can include customers and inquirers, people you
do business with, others you've identified as likely
* Other People's Lists, compiled from various sources,
including subscribers, buyers, people sharing common
interests, inquirers. These are available for hire or
The Beauty of Your Own List
Never underestimate the value of your own mailing list.
It's as near to perfect as you can get. These are people
who have already expressed an interest in your business,
some will have purchased from you already. They trust you
and can buy with confidence. With your own list, your
offer can be carefully targeted to suit an already
established customer profile and a good response might be
expected. In compiling your list, record: names,
addresses, purchases (past and future), dates, how your
customers first contacted you, average order, and so on.
Choosing and Using Outside Lists
Lists can be obtained from owners and brokers, or compiled
from professional and trade directories, directories of
businesses and organizations, advertisers' profiles and
When choosing an outside list it's essential that you
select one with characteristics most closely resembling
your customer profile (customers' features and
characteristics, including buying patterns and purchasing
Careful targeting means less wastage and a higher response
Golden Rules for Selecting a Mailing List
Rule number one is to spend at least as long deciding who
to send your offer to as deciding what to sell them.
Rule number two is to test your mailing list. Monitor the
effect of changes to your direct mail package against
random samples of a mailing list. Work at it until you
have the optimum combination of package and mailing list.
Do this each time you use a new list.
Response can be tested by coding mailing pieces, usually
the order form. The code might be a group of numbers or
letters, it might be a color or other mark.
Things You Must Know About a List
Why was the list compiled? Ask about the source of the
list, whether it includes buyers or inquirers, subscribers
or advertisers; when entries were last mailed to and how
recent the information is.
Has the list been cleaned recently and 'gone aways'
removed? Make sure the list owner will compensate you for
returns, usually by replacing each 'gone away' with an
appropriate number of fresh names. Is the list heavily
duplicated? Does the owner check regularly for multiple
What are your rights in the list? Can it be used more than
once? Can it be used repeatedly? Does it contain 'seeds'
and 'sleepers' to help the owner detect misuse?
What minimum order can be used to test the list? Testing
for suitability means mailing to a random sample and
testing response before mailing to the entire list. It is
industry practice to allow random sampling of an
appropriate list. If you have to buy the whole list
without testing it, go elsewhere.
Are business names entered by firm, job title or named
individuals? Response is invariably higher for mailings to
What quality printout is available? Some labels will be
quality laser typeset, others might be printed through a
badly faded ribbon on an inferior dot matrix system.
Another thing to watch out for are all capital printouts
known to be extremely off-putting to recipients.
Is the list available to you? Obviously, some owners are
reluctant to hire out lists to competitors.
About the List Owner/List Broker: How helpful is that
person or his representative? Has he asked why you want
the mailing list, what you are selling? Has he asked to
see the contents of your mailing? Is he interested in
helping you achieve a positive response or is he more
intent on taking your order? Has he taken time to answer
your questions? Is there a telephone number you can dial
for further information? If not, why not?
Miscellaneous. Is the list fully post-coded? Is the list
correctly registered under the law?