November 2

4 Tips on Direct Mail for Local Business Marketing


I just had a conversation with the Executive Director about building the list for her non-profit with direct mail. It was interesting, and there are some good points to share.

First, she’s under pressure from her Board to increase the number of names on the mailing list. Now, this is just “let’s get it done” pressure rather than “do it or you’re fired” pressure. In fact, the Board is also willing to spend a couple hundred dollars on renting a list to see what results they get.

Which brings me to the first good point: Never buy a list.

When Judy (not her real name) e-mailed me, she said they were looking at buying a list – what did I think. Well, I was headed to the bank anyway, so I stopped into her office afterward.

Direct Mail Marketing Tip #1

If you can BUY the list, then it isn’t worth having.

Direct mail lists are always rented. You send your mail piece to the list broker, or printer, and they address the envelopes. You only get the names of people who respond to you offer. And you get their names through their response. (I know…killer obvious.)

Okay. So Judy and I are going through the list criteria because her Board is willing to drop a couple hundred dollars on this “experiment.” For some reason, they want the experience rather than just accepting my advice. What can I say?

As it turns out, the company Judy is “buying” the list from turns out to be reputable (and they are – I’ve known about the company for a while) and is actually renting the list. You have to send you mail piece to them, and they reserve the right to approve what you’re mailing. Good for them.

So that puts the “buying a list” experiment in the trash. (Good place for it, too.)

Now we move on to ways to grow their list.

Fortunately for Judy, she has a dedicated Board. They consistently work to bring her new names, and they’re extremely involved in the fundraising process.

Direct Mail Marketing Tip #2

Make every letter personal.

Members of the Board literally write lift notes BY HAND for each letter sent. There are 1,000 names on their list, and the Board members invest the time to write a personal note for each letter.

So if I’m on the Board and I’ve contributed 80 names to the list, I write 80 lift notes.

And here are the results:

  1. 50% growth in list size from 2009 to 2010
  2. 33% response rate from their list

That’s a 33% response rate for Direct Mail!! The industry that does cartwheels over a 2% response rate.

It’s all because the Board members take the time to write those personal lift notes.

So we’ve dumped the list buying scheme, and we know personalising letters works. We still have to look at how we grow the list.

Direct Mail Marketing Tip #3

Always follow up.

There are countless business owners who have sent one direct mail piece, got no response, and declared that direct mail doesn’t work. In a way they’re right. What they did with direct mail definitely does not work.

Let’s say you rent a list. You pick your criteria well, and you get a targeted list. Good. Now you’re ready to send you direct mail campaign. Read that again…your direct mail campaign.

Send a single piece is going to flop. Plan to send at least a 7 part series because it takes 7 to 20 touches before making a sale.

Now, in Judy’s case, they’re sending to friends, family and colleagues of the Board members. These are people with whom there is an already established relationship. That’s much different from renting a list, plus it’s something every local business owner can do. We all have a circle of friends, family and colleagues we can reach out to.

So their follow up is to send thank you notes. And yes, the Board members write each one of these personally, too.

Direct Mail Marketing Tip #4

Existing customers are the best source of new customers.

The brass ring of advertising is word-of-mouth. That’s because you’re far more likely to make a new purchase based on a friend’s recommendation than on any other kind of advertising.

So for your business, give customers personalised referral cards. Put their name on it, and make the wording a personal referral. In Judy’s case, the card recommends a specific program that helps school kids.

Naturally you want all your pertinent information on the referral card:

  • name of business
  • address
  • phone number
  • website

You can even add your own name if it’s relevant. For example, Judy puts the names of all the Board members (plus her own) on the appeal letter they send.

BIG NOTE: This works because of the personal, hand-written note included with the letter.

For non-profit businesses, remember that 72% of donations are still coming by direct mail. And for-profit businesses should think about all the catalogues and direct mail they receive. It’s filling your mailbox precisely because it works.

The biggest key to making it work for you local business is keeping it personal. Build on the relationships you already have.

And remember that direct mail is just one piece of your local business marketing strategy.

Send a couple of e-mails, and mention in one that you’re sending a letter. After sending the letter, follow up with an e-mail asking about what was in it.

For people who respond, follow up with a phone call or maybe another letter.

And always be comfortable with directing people to a video, blogsite, or other resource. Get them interacting with you, and work toward developing a conversation. Fulfill their needs and they’ll be a loyal customer.

Last thing: Do it honestly. If you’re doing a good thing just because you expect some business or an additional purchase, people are going to see it. And they might purchase, too.

You know how it works. You give a coupon that’s buy one get one free. Lots of folks buy. But that business owner is in it just for the sales and never bothers building a relationship. So sales go up while the coupon is good, then drop back down afterward.

Sure, because there’s no relationship.

Bonus Marketing Tip

Be sincerely interested in other people.

Give Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People) credit for this one. It was true in the 1930’s and its’ true today.

Strong businesses are built on strong relationships.

You’ve seen this from me – and heard it – before…And I’ll go right on saying it: Life is a marathon. Be social.

Thanks for reading.


dale carnegie, direct mail, local business marketing

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