Put power in your direct mail campaigns

Sept. 1, 2009
Direct mail can and should be an important marketing tool for your contracting business. Here are 14 tips to give your direct mail greater punch.

Face it. Most contractors need help in the marketing arena. At one extreme, do-it-yourself direct marketers make amateurish attempts that cause homeowners to cringe. The other extreme is characterized by the beautiful imagery of manufacturer supported marketing that's all things to all plumbers, but too generic and vague to generate much in the way of results for most contractors.

The solution isn't to punt. It's to improve. Direct mail can and should be an important marketing tool for your business. Here are 14 tips to give your direct mail greater punch.

  • Objective: Before you create a direct mail piece, decide on its purpose. Determine what you want the recipient to do as a result of your mail piece.

  • Target: Are you marketing to existing or new customers? Marketing to existing customers is often substantially different than marketing to prospects. The former know you, and the latter must be enticed.

  • Demographics: Are you marketing to a particular neighborhood or other geographic area? How about a certain demographic? The nature of your target changes the nature of your marketing, sometimes subtly and occasionally dramatically.

  • List: One of the most critical decisions in a direct mail campaign is list selection. The best list, of course, is your house list of existing customers and prospects. When purchasing a list expect 10% to 20% of the addresses to be bad, no matter what the list broker promises. It's worth spending more for a better quality list that's tightly focused and more thoroughly audited, so you can speak more directly to the prospect.

  • Call to action: Begin with the end in mind, and the end of your mail piece is a call to action where you tell the prospect exactly what you want him or her to do and by when. Without a call to action, you're marketing without a point and without a purpose. Nevertheless, a surprisingly large number of direct marketing plumbing pieces lack a specific call to action. If possible, introduce a sense of urgency to your call to action with limited time or event driven offers.

  • Focus: Because business owners have so much to say about their offering, they tend to tell it all. Marketers, who try to say too much, communicate nothing. Focus on a single message, product or service.

  • Sweat the headline: A rule of thumb states that five times as many people read the headline as the copy. If true, and it probably is, five times as much effort should be spent on the headline as the rest of the copy: state a benefit, use quotation marks, include a number, and most of all, speak directly to the reader.

  • Use subheadings strategically: The headline and subheadings should communicate the essential elements of your marketing piece all by themselves. This will encourage readers who scan the page to read further.

  • Tell a story: Stories attract us. They are compelling and memorable. From the Parables of Jesus to Aesop's Fables, stories have always been the best way to teach. The best direct mail tells a story that draws the prospect in.

  • Be authentic: In an overhyped, media saturated world, authenticity stands out. Talk with a real voice. Be human, not corporate. Ultimately, marketing is a conversation, so engage the prospect by conversing with him.

  • Graphic design: You may not be a graphic designer, but you can follow a few key principles of good graphic design.

  • Fonts: Limit yourself to two typestyles. Use a Roman font, like newspapers use for copy. Use a bold san serif, like Arial or Helvetica, for headlines.

  • Pictures: Images add emotion and make the marketing piece more visually interesting. Where possible, photographs should be used instead of clip art. And where possible, photographs should feature people, not stuff. People are more interested in people than faucets, fixtures, pipes and trucks. Select images of people who look like your target customer.

  • Contrast: Contrast in a piece adds visual interest and increases the odds people will notice and read the piece.

  • Focal point: Arrange graphic elements to direct the eye towards a focal point you want to emphasize. Make sure, for example, you do not feature a person looking off the page, away from your headline.

  • Order: The design should reflect an underlying order, not a hard to read spaghetti layout.

  • White space: It's tempting to fill every available inch, but resist the temptation.

  • Upper and lower case: Simply stated, all upper case text is harder to read than upper and lower case text.

  • Contact information: Do not overlook your company name, location, phone number and Web site. If possible, include your e-mail, IM address, Twitter handle and Facebook fan page for inquiries. Give people as many ways to respond to you as possible.

  • Use a postscript: A surprisingly large number of people will jump straight to the postscript in a direct mail piece. Use it to reinforce the essential benefit you are offering as well as the call to action.

  • Conduct a campaign: Too many companies try direct mail in small quantities, are disappointed with the results, and stop. A direct marketing initiative should involve multiple mailings over time. It is not a one-and-done effort, but a campaign that becomes more effective with time.

  • Track results: Like all marketing, design your offer so that you can track the results. Direct marketing is an interactive process where you learn a little with each mailing, allowing you to tweak the next, so you can continually improve your direct marketing.

Matt Michel is the CEO of the Service Roundtable, a plumbing business alliance. Read Matt's blog at ComancheMarketing.com, e-mail him at [email protected] or call him toll free at 877.262.3341. For a FREE copy of Matt's guide, “Build a Better Mousetrap: 34 Ways to Boost Print Marketing Performance,” contact Liz Patrick at [email protected] and mention Contractor Magazine.

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel is CEO of the Service Roundtable (ServiceRoundtable.com). The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization.

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