How to Create a Direct Mail Campaign
Creating a direct mail campaign is the subject of this post.
If you are planning to create a direct mail campaign soon, then this blogpost is for you. It is based on an interview I did with one of the world’s direct mail experts, Craig Simpson. Craig is the co-author of The Direct Mail Solution and a bone fide direct mail campaign expert. The Direct Mail Solution is a book written to help business owners build a lead-generating, sales-driving, money-making direct mail campaign. His co-author is Dan Kennedy.
The Direct Mail Solution: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Direct-Mail-Solution-Lead-Generating-Sales-Driving/dp/1599185180
Craig is the real thing. A direct mail campaign expert. His firm, Simpson Direct, based in Oregon, USA has mailed more than 300 million sales pieces, used thousands of mailing lists and sold hundreds of thousands of products, courses, services and newsletters.
Additionally, Craig is co-author of The Advertising Solution, a book that captures lessons from 6 of the greats of advertising – Robert Collier, Claude Hopkins, John Caples, David Ogilvy, Gary Halbert and Eugene Schwartz.
The Advertising Solution: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Advertising-Solution-Influence-Prospects-Multiply/dp/1599185962
The Eugene Schwartz Copywriting Focus Method
Craig started the podcast discussion with an explanation of how Eugene Schwartz focused on writing copy.
“It works phenomenal” Craig said about this method he uses himself, not just for writing, but for all areas of business. The technique is great for difficult projects. So how does the technique work?
Every time you have a very difficult project, that you really don’t want to do or it’s more than you want to accomplish, Craig puts this method into practise. When Gene Schwartz, possibly one of the road’s best ever copywriters, he would have all these ideas in his mind. Too many to easily just put them down on paper. Or maybe he would have no ideas at all.
How to Focus Better to Write Your Best Ever Copy
- Gene would never just sit down to write a sales letter from A to Z. Instead, he would sit down and set a timer. For 33 minutes and 33 seconds. Just an odd number, but about the length of time you can actively focus for.
- For that 33 minutes and 33 seconds, he would only work on this ONE project. No going to make coffee, or take a break, he’d just do this one thing for 33 minutes 33 seconds.
- First, he would just organising his thoughts and his research. Read something, and if he found something he liked he would write it down and put it in a little folder.
- As the project progressed, he would just organise his thoughts. But he would only work for 33 minutes and 33 seconds at a time. When the buzzer went off, at the end of that time slot, he would get up, EVEN if it was mid-sentence. He would stop right then and there.
- At that point, he’s going to do whatever he wants to do. He’d take the dog for a walk, grab a snack, whatever it was he could do whatever he wanted.
- Then, he’d jump back in and set the timer again. He’d re-organise his thoughts and move things around. Gene always said, it was like the copy wrote itself. Because, you weren’t sitting down to write it, you were only organising your thoughts for 33 minutes at a time. He write phenomenal pieces that generated $100millions for clients, because of this ONE method.
- He would repeat this 4 or 5 or 6 times a day and that’s how he created his mail pieces.
Was the Pomodoro Technique a straight copy of Eugene’s?
Kevin mentioned the Pomodoro technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique Interestingly, some time after Gene Schwartz had been using the same method…
Ask yourself, what is the one thing you can get done in the next 33 minutes 33 seconds? It is a really attainable tie-frame to work in. It’s not like you are going to be overwhelmed with a huge long day.
Simpson Direct – a business that has shipped more than 300 Million Direct Mail pieces
Craig is a direct mail consultant and coach, so he sends out 250-300 different direct mail campaigns every year. That means 250 print jobs, 250 different sets of list orders. Each job could be 10,000, 50,000 or 100,000 pieces. The business has been providing direct mail campaigns for over 20 years now.
His streamline is Turning Mail Into Money! He has processed over 300 million pieces over the years.
Craig has a consistent level of experience.
The Most Important 3 Things You Need to Produce Great Direct Mail
- List – you need the right mailing list.
- Copy/Message – what are you going to say.
The most important of those 3 is your list. You can mail the best sales piece in the world, but if you mail it to the wrong group of people, you’ll get no response. But, if you pick a great mailing list, you can write mediocre copy, that’s just okay, but if its the right mailing list they are still going to respond.
Second is the copy and third is the offer. Obviously you want to have a strong offer.
Those are the 3 things to GET RIGHT in every direct mail campaign.
The Offer – it has to answer the burning question in the prospects’ mind. What is keeping them up at night? What are they thinking about? That offer needs to be an answer to your prospect’s problem.
Example: You have joint pain. Is your offer joint cream that will solve it? That’s your offer. Is it going to be someone in the financial business and your offer will solve their problems financially? Your offer solves your prospect’s problem.
It’s the product or service that you are selling.You have to present your offer in such a way that as soon as they read your letter, they would jump up, go to your office, go online to a landing page or call you to respond.
Make Your Direct Mail Campaign SUPER Appealing
How can you motivate and build your offer to respond to?
- Have a good price offer.
- Add in bonuses.
- Free gifts.
You have to create value that is so strong that says that this is such a good deal, that I have to go buy this right now. If your offer is just ok ad nothing special, then non-one is going to buy it.
Motivate them with such great value. That’s why you want to offer bonuses or offer a discount, because you want the recipient to feel that the offer is so great, you’ve got to go respond right now.
What are Good Direct Mail Campaign Bonuses?
Whatever it is you are offering – a joint pain reliever for example – what kind of bonuses would go with that?
A book that will talk to you about living a better pain-free life, by doing certain things. We’re going to include a cook book. By cooking these special meals, which in addition to the joint cream, these meals will help your joints feel better, and you’ll live longer. We’ll include a supplement that will help you have more energy throughout the day. So, not are you going to have better joints, you are going to feel better, and want to do more.
The idea is CONGRUENCE. Bonuses that tie to the product, don’t take away from it, but enhance it. Make it even better.
So now, we’ve got the pain reliever, the book to teach me how to live, we’ve got a cook book to show me what to eat and a supplement that’s going to make me feel better. Wow, this is a full package.
Direct Mail Mailing Lists
Optimising your direct mail campaign starts with a great mailing list. When you look at a mailing list, you want to find a group of people who have purchased or responded to a similar level of service.
Example: Let’s say you are selling golf clubs. You want to go after people who have bought other golf products through the mail.
There are 2 mean types of list:
- response lists – people who have bought or responded to an offer. Someone picked up the phone and called, enquired about a new golf club or purchased a new set of golf equipment.
- compiled lists – people who are on a list because of a certain characteristic. Often there is no connection with your product, the compiled list is a group of people with a particular attribute, like living in a property of a certain type and value.
The most important thing is to get a group of people who have responded to a similar offer. If that’s not available, then the next best source are compiled lists.
As a Business Owner – Are You Collecting Names?
Collect names. Many business owners simply do not collect names and addresses and contact details of prospects who are getting in touch with them. Craig is shocked by the number of businesses who do not collect names or keep track of them.
Segment the list. Where did these people come from? What did they buy? We have to narrow it down to that.
If you are selling golf clubs and you are selling arthritis cream, they may not be your best prospects! It’s the wrong message for them.
Bricks and mortar businesses are most likely NOT to collect lists. Restaurants have people coming in every day. Why not capture name and address. Then in your slowest weeks of the year, send out some special offers to these people. Drive some traffic into your restaurant.
Same goes with dry cleaners, coffee shops, every brick and mortar business should be collecting names so they can market to them.
General Data Protection Regulation – an Update
The best direct mail campaign you can offer is one based on names collected from people who have worked with you or visited your premises, or enquired with you. If you do start collecting names, then be sure to follow the guidelines almost upon us: here are two links that will help you get ready for GDPR:
Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)
Data Protection Network (run by friend of The Next 100 Days Podcast – Rosemary Smith)
Make sure you capture their consent for the use of that data.
ICO Summary Advice on Consent
- Doing consent well should put individuals in control, build customer trust and engagement, and enhance your reputation.
- Check your consent practices and your existing consents. Refresh consents if they don’t meet the GDPR standard.
- Consent means offering individuals genuine choice and control.
- Consent requires a positive opt-in. Don’t use pre-ticked boxes or any other method of consent by default.
- Explicit consent requires a very clear and specific statement of consent.
- Keep your consent requests separate from other terms and conditions.
- Be specific and granular. Vague or blanket consent is not enough.
- Be clear and concise.
- Name any third parties who will rely on the consent.
- Make it easy for people to withdraw consent and tell them how.
- Keep evidence of consent – who, when, how, and what you told people.
- Keep consent under review, and refresh it if anything changes.
- Avoid making consent a precondition of a service.
The Voice and the Lingo – a Better Direct Mail Solution
The voice of your direct mail campaign is important too. You want to connect with your prospects. Allow them to feel that they know who you are. You want your voice to be as if it’s a one on one conversation. You don’t want to feel like you are talking to the masses. Because that is not personal and it is not connecting.
The idea of the voice, is that it is telling a story, making it feel that it is one-on-one. That you are connecting with prospects in a way that it makes them feel that they are across the coffee table from you having a conversation.
Your voice is very important in how you get that across. Make sure you are connecting with them on a deeper level.
The lingo. Whatever you do, DO NOT try impress the reader with big words. Avoid writing really thick sentences. Or long paragraphs.
The opposite of long paragraphs, think sentence and long complicated words is true in marketing. We want easy to read messages. Make it a 6th Grade reading level. That your message is so easy to read and comprehend that a 10 or 11 year old can digest it comfortably.
Lingo is about connecting to the person one-on-one with the prospect. Meaning the things that we say have to resonate with the prospect. We need to say things that in their terms are going to make sense to them.
Example: If you are talking to Bank CEOs, you are going to want to use words that they are familiar with and use in everyday parlance. You’ll say things differently to ‘soccer moms’ than we are to the man or woman working at the bank.
Use words that your prospects use everyday and they can relate with. Simple, easy to read and further connect with the prospects.
“Get To Know The People” Technique
David Ogilvy would ride the train between New York to Chicago and back, JUST to talk to people. Why did he want to talk to them? Because he wanted to know how they talked. How they said things.
If he was going to sell a bar of soap to them, he knew how they would say it, how they would talk about it.
He wanted to be around his customers. So that he knew what to say and the ‘lingo’ to use.
Gene Schwartz would go to the movies and to restaurants just to talk to the people in line, the waiters, the waitresses serving him, because he wanted to know the way that they said things. The words that they would use. So, that in turn he could use those words in his sales copy.
The Lingo is key. Being around your customers and potential customers is a great way to pick up on the voice you need and the lingo to use.
Can you GUARANTEE a Direct Mail Campaign Outcome?
You should include a guarantee in your message. It comes down to having a great list. That is your best chance of getting your outcome. So if you are collecting names from YOUR OWN BUSINESS, that is the best group of people to go after.
They have already contacted you for something. They have responded to you for something. There’s your hyper-responsive buyers.
The odds of you NOT getting those people to respond to something else from you are pretty slim. Unless you have done a terrible job of serving them in the past, there is NO REASON, why they wouldn’t come back to you for more.
Doing Your Homework to Create a Better Direct Mail Campaign
This is probably one of the most important parts of a direct mail solution. That’s research. If you are not researching your customers, your competitors, your product, every part of the direct mail campaign. If you are not doing that first then you are missing some key steps there.
A lot of times Business Owners think they are their own best prospect. When in reality they are NOT. They are not their best buyers. So, they need to go find out WHO their best buyers are.
- What they look like.
- What are their hobbies and interests.
- What’s their income.
- What’s their social-economic status.
- What are the things they like to do.
Then look at your competitors. What are they doing that works? What are the things they are doing that seems to be getting the attention of others.
Then look at your product. Research it deeply. What are the things that make your product different from everyone-else’s?
The more research you do, the better direct mail solution you’ll create.
How Important is Creative to Your Direct Mail Campaign?
When should we use images? We drive down the road, see billboards and in magazines see lots of images. A lot of times those trying to get the best outcome with their direct mail solution are tempted to follow the same example.
Then they’ll put big images on their sales pieces. However, the reality after many tests, over and over again, for about 100 years. True then and true today.
Sales copy by itself is what is going to give us the best response.
We can enhance that sales copy by using some images. But those images cannot overwhelm or overpower the copy itself. They are only there to enhance and make the copy better.
If you are writing a sales letter, it may be appropriate to put a few picture in there. A sample shot of the product. But the entire piece needs to have more copy than images. The copy needs to remain the focus of your direct mail solution.
More copy will output a piece that has more images. Craig offers his own dozens and dozens of tests on this as evidence.
Length of Copy – Good for Direct Mail, Good for SEO
Get used to writing good copy. At length. Be thorough. This is a method to get better results through search engine optimisation and it is a good method to get results with your direct mail solution.
Sometimes, clients will say, it has to be short copy, because THEY JUST WONT READ IT.
Craig says, the more you tell, the more you sell.
Another thing true 100 years ago, 20 years ago and true today.
One of Craig’s best performing sales letters to cold prospects who have never heard of us before is an 80 page sales letter. When Craig tests, and he tests all year long, every year – shorter copy versus longer copy, 99% of those tests LONGER COPY WORKS BETTER.
It doesn’t mean you have to write an 80-page sales letter for your direct mail solution. You have to write enough copy to COMPLETELY tell the story and make the case for buying the product or service.
This may be 2-pages. It may take 12 pages. Or 20 pages or even 80 pages. The length is whatever it takes for you to write your story. Connect with that prospect. Motivate them to respond. That’s how much copy is needed.
Short little sentences and short blurbs DO NOT work better.
Everyone wants to mail a postcard in the US, because they are cheap. Mail them, short copy. Every time a client tests a postcard against his sales letter in Craig’s experience, every time the sales letter works better. Because it is longer it engages the prospect more. It has that conversation with that specific voice and message. And it really resonates with the prospect.
Please do long copy.
Use Postcards as Part of a Sequence
Craig certainly does use postcards. He is not against them. As part of a sequence they are WONDERFUL.
Great reminder pieces. They are great pieces to use in a sequence. But he would NEVER lead with one. He would never make his total offer dependent on one.
The other point to make, is that if you do use a postcard, it is quite close chronologically to the first mailing sent out. Maybe a few days later for example.
Another point to make about LONG COPY, is you are writing for the person who is going to buy, not for those people who will ignore and bin your letter. They realise the message is not for them at this moment.
For those that do read the long letter, because the have dedicated so much time into that sales letter, into reading that letter, they are going to have this vested interest, they are more engaged the more they read. So, by the time they are done, the are ready to take action.
Second Readership Path
With the 80-page sales letter, sure a lot of people will toss it into the re-cycling. But, they are going to quickly skim through the letter. They are going to look at the HEADLINE, they are going to look at the PS and some of the sub-headlines throughout.
Then, we have got them engaged.
Now, they are going to take that second path and they are going to read the sales piece in detail. They are going to study it. The more they read the more engaged they are going to get. By the time we make the offer, they are drooling, they are going to pick up that phone and call right away. They are ready to buy.
That’s our goal.
The key to long copy, is keeping them engaged and moving through the letter.
Craig’s 80-page sales letter is survival food. Packages at $195, $495, $1,997. Spending $500 through the mail is a big price point, so it is incumbent on the vendor to tell a big story. You really have to engage them to spend that kind of money.
Offline to Online – The Modern Direct Mail Campaign
How do you go from a direct mailer to a landing page effectively? Where on the landing page there is more information, maybe a video, downloadable document, free gift registration etc.
Craig says about a third of his annual mailings drives prospects online. If you have a successful ONLINE funnel, and you want to try direct mail, your best option is to say, let’s drive them into that online funnel. That funnel already works let’s drive them there.
The things to keep in mind when you are writing your SALES COPY, is that the GOAL of that sales copy is to get them to go online. Once they are online you can sell them the product or service. But, don’t try and sell the the product or service in the sales letter. Sell them only on going online.
Share all the benefits and reasons why they need to go find out more online. The big mistake mailers make is when they try and do two things. They feel like they need to sell their product AND they try to sell going online. But now you are trying to accomplish two different paths. One buying and one going online. When the reality is we just want them to go online.
For most of Craig’s ‘drive them online’ direct mail solutions, he is only using 2 pages of sales copy.
That’s all it takes to share all the benefits of going online. The reasons why we want them to go find out more. Intrigue them. Build up their curiosity. Give them all these great benefits of things they will find out, if they just go to this website, opt-in and find out more.
Don’t Forget Your Business Reply Envelope
Still a magnificent way of capturing response.
Especially important if you are mailing to an older demographic. You might find that 80% of the response comes back via business reply.
Clients would still like people to call, or go online, but the fact is their prospects are mailing envelopes back and it takes a little bit longer, but when you have 80% of the response coming back that way for some groups – WHY would you get rid of it?
If you are dealing with the older generation, a business reply envelope is key to the success of your direct mail solution. People like investors tend to be 55+, and they have been brought up with BR envelopes.
Craig has tested including an online response option and it LOWERS response rates! If you are in an area where someone might go online and research a competitor, on the back of your communication, that’s where you can lose people. So the better response option might be call, fax, or complete the reply card and send it back via the business reply envelope.
The fact that it takes a little more effort to mail back the BRE possibly means people are a little more engaged. However, the extra effort is relative. If you are reading the direct mail letter in your armchair and have to haul yourself up and turn on your computer and type in the destination page and then complete the online form, it wouldn’t be far wrong to consider people might see the BRE as the lesser of the two commitments.
Dimensional or lumpy mail works extremely well in a couple of different categories. The first is business to business. Business owners are hard to get in contact with. It is hard to get them engaged. Craig really likes to use lumpy mail whenever possible.
The second group is when you are mailing a small mailing universe. Let’s say you are mailing just 500 people. Why not enhance your response rate by using lumpy mail to get the piece opened and get it read?
You are best not using lumpy mail when you are going to the masses. It is just too expensive to mail 10,000 prospects a service bell or a magnifying glass. You have to weigh up the COST versus RESPONSE. Does the extra response offset the extra expense to mail the piece out or not?
When your list is small, you should have a high response, it should be highly targeted. You are probably selling a more expensive product, so lumpy mail makes more sense. But if you are going to cold prospects, the masses, it is very expensive. You’ll have a lower response rate and that cost probably won’t be offset.
Graham sent a box of chocolates through the mail to customers and prospects just prior to Christmas. Craig says they will remember that gesture, since it will have been quite unique.
Newsletters as a Direct Mail Campaign
We had Shaun Buck on the podcast, who runs Newsletter Pro out of Boise, Idaho. He was awesome and we learnt a lot about newsletters as a brilliant retention strategy.
Using direct mail for retention is critical. The question isn’t whether you should use a newsletter, it is whether you should send it out MONTHLY or QUARTERLY.
Every business should have a newsletter to connect to their customers and prospects on a regular basis. You want to be in front of them. If they aren’t ready to buy now, maybe 3 or 4 months down the road, they will be. You might be the one guy that’s still mailing them.
Some businesses don’t require monthly newsletters. Quarterly works just fine.
Why quarterly not monthly? Craig cites a client who builds and remodels dental offices. He doesn’t need to mail his prospects every single month because they are not having that conversation in their mind every month. But, four times a year, he gets engagement.
Medical practices offering expensive procedures don’t need to be in front of their patients every single month. Quarterly works just fine.
If you are a retail store YOU BETTER BE IN FRONT OF THEM EVERY MONTH! They are shopping all the time.
It comes down to the frequency by which the person is shopping for the product or service that you offer. Cars, quarterly. retail, where you are constantly buying products and services, then you need to be in front of them all the time.
The ideal length of your newsletter? 4 pages. The simple 4-page self mailer newsletter. It reminds them that you are there, and you want there business.
The Next 100 Days?
What’s a typical week by week schedule for a 5,000 mailing.
The longest part is writing the sales copy. Don’t rush that process. It’ll take 3-4 weeks with a good copywriter. Sometimes business owners are really good writers themselves and they can write it in two days. It all depends on your skill set, the time you have to put into it. The first step is writing that sales copy.
Once you have that, start working on the design. The layout. Sometimes it takes 2 to 3 days for a designer, you may be able to do it in less.
During the creative phase doing the copy and design, Craig advises to get the list research done.
At the end of the first four weeks, you’ll know the mailing list you want to use. At that point you can submit the creative and the list to your printer. They’ll address and mail out the mailing in around a week.
Most mailings you can get out in 4 to 6 weeks. 8 weeks if you take a long time.
Once you have that creative and list done, you can then be in the mail every week if you wanted to.
The key things?
- research – is there a mailing list? What is out there.
- competitor research – don’t miss that step, are you presenting the wrong offer?
- then move through the process setting up the mailing as discussed above.
Guarantees as Part of Your Direct Mail Campaign
If you are allowed to, EVERY offer should have some sort of guarantee. Remove the barrier to entry for the prospect. That means there is this barrier between YOU and the Prospect. What will stop you selling the prospect? Ask yourself, what can you do to make it easier for your prospect to buy?
I guarantee you’ll be satisfied with it. Or you’ll get your money back. That removes any risk of why you shouldn’t buy. So now you know you can buy the product and if you don’t like it you can get your money back.
A guarantee is one more way to get the prospect engaged.
With technology, it makes complete sense to allow trial. You have no idea at the time of purchase whether it is a good fit for you. Elsewhere, the product cost will determine whether a free trial is built into your offer.
Testing as part of Your Direct Mail Campaign
Test one variable in every campaign if at all possible. If your response rate improves just 0.25% as a result, for many mailers that may not be a very significant add to the bottom line. But compound seven or eight tests where you are driving up response rate with marginal testing gains you are looking at very substantial impact on your bottom line.
There is always something to test.
Your headline. A photo. Colour. Design. Offer. Bonus. It is amazing all the things you can test.
Keep in mind TEST ONE VARIABLE AT A TIME.
For those clients who are eager to be successful first time round? The answer for those guys is how many times have you seen an expensive new striker for your team fail to hit the back of the net in the first few minutes of his first game for your team? Or a player hitting a home run. It is very difficult.
We can come real close. And at that point we have a lot to work with.
How can you contact Craig Simpson?
- Buy The Direct Mail SolutionThe Direct Mail Solution: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Direct-Mail-Solution-Lead-Generating-Sales-Driving/dp/1599185180
- Buy The Advertising SolutionThe Advertising Solution: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Advertising-Solution-Influence-Prospects-Multiply/dp/1599185962
- Visit Craig’s website: Simpson-direct.com
I hope you’ve found real value in this post. Be sure to leave your feedback, and if you need help with your next direct mail campaign, drop me a line below.
Now, do you have time to listen to the podcast?