The Strength and Weakness of Direct Mail

A lot of the information on this site is geared to retail businesses, but what if you’re not in retail? Perhaps you offer some sort of service and your clients are other businesses. When you start thinking about how to promote your business, you’ll eventually consider direct mail.

The proponents of direct mail talk as if it is a 100% sure thing. And it sure sounds good. You buy the names and addresses of business owners who could use your product or service, and then send them a card or letter that sells them your services. Sounds great.

In fact, for a lot of business to business clients, or B2B as it’s called by some marketers*, direct mail is a good fit. But like I’ve said before, almost any medium can be effective if you combine it with a strong message and a sufficient frequency. So lets look at the strengths and weaknesses of a direct mail campaign.

The Upside

We’ve already mentioned the greatest strength of direct mail: it goes to the exact person who you want to reach. If you are targeting other businesses, it doesn’t make sense to advertise in media that goes out to just anybody. If the person who hears your message doesn’t run a business or holds a decision-making position in a business, the money spent to reach that person is wasted. You can have the best message in the world and reach that person over and over again, but it won’t matter if the person you are talking to cannot use your product or service.

Direct mail, for the most part, solves that problem. By sending your message directly to the person who can use your product (that’s why its called it direct mail, by the way), you spend your advertising dollars more efficiently. That’s a big bonus, and it is the greatest strength of direct mail.

This is where direct mail proponents begin the hard sell. You’ll hear about cost efficiencies, how inexpensive their printing services are, how each mailer can be personalized, and so forth.

So what’s the down-side?

The downside is summed up in one word: clutter. How many times have you asked your spouse, “Anything in the mail today?” I bet a lot of the times they answer, “Nothing today, just junk.”

What is “junk” mail?

Advertisements and solicitations.

Who sent it?

Businesses that decided that the most efficient way to promote their business was to buy the names and addresses of people who could use their product or service, and then send them a card or letter that sells them their product or service. In other words, your mailer.

Now do you see the problem? We get so much junk mail that we ignore it. Occasionally you’ll receive something unsolicited and you’ll say, “Hey, that’s kinda cool,” but not usually. This is why the typical direct mail campaign only has a 1% or 2% response rate. Now the savvy direct mail guru will say that problem is a result of a poor message, and they are mostly right. A strong message will get you more attention — most of the time.

You see, in a business, the person who the mail is addressed to is not always the same person who opens the mail. Often a secretary or assistant sorts through the mail, eliminates the “junk” — the stuff sent by people like you  — and the business owner or whoever only receives “the important stuff.”

If you are going to use direct mail, make sure your mailer is “the important stuff” and not the “junk.” That takes effort and homework, but if you don’t put in the effort, it’s simply waste.

(*I hate marketing-speak. Marketers and ad guys are supposed to be communicators, so why do we talk a different language than everybody else? When I see “B2B,”, I think of the B2 Bomber or I think that someone is too lazy to type. But that’s another subject.)

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