Focus your sales efforts
with direct mail
Written by Shirley Lichti for The Record,
October 17, 2001
Direct mail can be an extremely effective
promotional tool when properly used. Unfortunately, too often it
is poorly targeted, leading people to call it “junk mail.” As an
example, for years I was on a mailing list aimed at selling technical
products to engineers and scientists.
Normally this mail would have gone straight
into the garbage. But since my husband, John Hayes, is an engineer,
I passed these pieces on to him. In fact, he even bought a product
from one of these mailings.
So when his company recently began looking
for a way to promote a newly developed software application called
EnvelopeDesign, written specifically for the envelope manufacturing
industry, he asked me what I thought about using direct mail.
Small target market
For a number of reasons, direct mail made a lot of sense. Direct
mail works best when your target market is small. A company with
between 100 to 5,000 prospects may find this number too large for
personal sales calls, but too small to be reached efficiently using
mass media vehicles.
In the case of envelope manufacturers, there
are only about 200 in all of North America who are good candidates
for John's software, and they are very spread out. Most of the potential
customers for this software are in the United States, too far apart
for in-person calls, but too small a group to reach through mass
Target market identifiable
Direct mail also works well when you can identify individuals in
your target market by name and you can either develop or purchase
a list of these people and their addresses.
Since most of the larger envelope manufacturers
belong to the Envelope Manufacturer’s Association, it was easy to
obtain current names, titles and mailing addresses and then create
a database of prospects.
Objective is to get action
All of us want our target market to do something – make a phone
call, mail a reply card, or visit a web site. Direct mail is a great
way to stimulate action.
While the ultimate objective for John was
to eventually convince customers to buy his EnvelopeDesign software,
he knew it would be a long sell cycle. What he really needed was
a list of qualified prospects so he could more narrowly focus his
To create that list, he offered a free demo
CD of EnvelopeDesign. His measure of success for the direct mail
campaign would be how many CD requests were received.
Response rates for direct mail are notoriously
low. The industry averages are between one and three per cent. Nevertheless,
even with a low response, direct mail was still more cost efficient
than other methods to find qualified prospects and provide a satisfactory
return on investment.
Pushing the envelope
The first challenge in direct mail is to get people to open your
envelope. Studies show that the average person takes less than seven
seconds to decide to open an envelope and remove the contents.
Direct mail designers often use lots of colour,
graphics and teaser copy to ensure envelope are opened. But it’s
important to keep your target market in mind. In John's case, he
was dealing with companies that make envelopes, many of which are
used for direct mail packages. These people are more critical observers
of the mail they receive than typical consumer or business audiences.
With that in mind, a very simple design was
used, with the EnvelopeDesign logo at the top left of an oversized
white envelope. But the mailing label on the envelope was shaped
like a small envelope blank (basically what an envelope looks like
before it is folded and glued.) It showed fold lines, no ink areas
and glue areas, of great interest to those in the industry, and
all are features provided by the software being promoted. The mailing
label was imprinted with the name and address of each person from
There are a number of “hot spots” that the eye is drawn to on a
direct mail letter. Readership can be increased as well by other
copywriting and design techniques, many more than can be described
in the scope of this column.
Probably the two most important hot spots
on the letter are the space just above the salutation (called the
Johnson Box) and the postscript just below the signature. Both try
to create interest and convince people to act. Since consumers know
they will find the most important point of the letter repeated in
the postscript (or P.S.), many save time by going directly to this
For John's direct mail, a large envelope
blank was used instead of more traditional sheet of letterhead.
The copy was kept short since the target market is busy and would
not read a lengthy letter. Both the Johnson Box and the P.S. were
used to full advantage to get across key points.
The design of the entire package was unconventional.
Even the product information and testimonials were printed on different
shapes and sizes of envelope blanks. Since the software being promoted
designs envelopes, these pieces were especially meaningful as they
also illustrated a bit about how the software works.
It’s too early to report the final results
since the package was only mailed in late September. However, the
interim response rate has far exceeded the industry average and
is already in the double-digit range. For this project, direct mail
was exactly what was needed to push the envelope and the EnvelopeDesign