Best Practices For Direct Mail 2023 And Beyond
If you wrote a standard, garden-variety blog about best practices in direct mail, it would tell you things you already know: focus on your target audience, include a call to action, use readable fonts and colors, and so forth.
There’s nothing wrong with these recommendations other than … well, they’re really table stakes when it comes to crafting a great direct-mail campaign.
Let’s move out of the garden for a few moments and focus on the true best practices that you as a marketing professional should be employing to get the most out of your direct-mail campaign.
Plan, plan, plan
Marketing is a planned process – at least, it should be.
That’s not to say your well-laid plans won’t fall prey to events and circumstances – not to mention budgets (because as we all know, when it comes to budget cuts the marketing budget is at the head of the line).
However, that’s not an excuse for having a well-constructed plan that lays out your tactics and channels.
The best direct-mail campaign doesn’t start with a great packaging concept or a nifty turn of phrase; it starts with a marketing plan that finds just the right spot for the direct-mail piece, to reach a selected audience, amplify a key selling point, or provide the final impetus to sign up, buy, or give.
If you can give yourself six months from conception to mailing, you’ll have taken the time to ensure that the piece is well-designed, well-written, well-timed, and thoroughly designed to do what you need it to do.
That’s not to say great direct-mail campaigns can’t be whipped up out of thin air in a couple of weeks. They can, but they shouldn’t be in the plan that way.
While a six-month lead time may take you through two marketing-planning cycles, stick with it. The results will be worth it.
Measure, measure, measure
A marketing friend of ours who occasionally works with large clients was revealing a truth about a client they were working with: Their website basically hid its most profitable product from the public – not because of shame, but because of poor web design.
And everything that might link to that product, including direct mail, was suffering because the page was not only not visible, but it wasn’t being promoted in ways that would send people there to learn more about or purchase their product.
This is a lot of problem on a lot of levels, but it’s most of all a measurement problem.
Why a measurement problem? Because this organization’s measurement regimen should have tipped off the marketing team that something was afoot, along the lines of, “We’re throwing all this money at this product and it’s not moving the needle.”
We’ve talked in multiple blogs (here, here and here) about how to use measurement to prove the efficacy of your direct-mail campaign, and while they’re largely retrospective measures they should be identified prior to launching the campaign.
If things look a little wonky in your pre-launch measurement, that could be a tipoff that your web design isn’t up to snuff or you have other structural problems totally unrelated to direct mail. It’s a great check on your overall marketing efficiency.
However, you shouldn’t stop there. It’s a good idea to benchmark all your important analytics and KPIs right before the direct-mail campaign launches and see where the needle moves. You may have ID’d the wrong benchmarks … but you’ll never know if you don’t measure, and if you’re not scrupulous about monitoring your measurements.
Design – don’t design, design, design
We love designers. They make our world look pretty. They make our websites and other stuff look pretty. They make mundane products look spectacular.
But there comes a point where you have to shut them off.
Once your direct-mail piece is to a point where it’s super-readable, the CTA’s are all in place, the QR code works, everything aligns with your graphics standards, then … just … stop.
Even if the piece, while meeting graphics standards to a T, doesn’t align with your personal aesthetic, just stop. Some marketers (and their bosses) want everything that comes out of their department to look like them, and that’s not what it’s about. It’s about functionality, and letting someone else have a turn with their copy or design (assuming it meets the standards, of course).
A good direct-mail piece needs to be designed but not over-designed, analyzed but not over-analyzed. It needs organic life and vigor – and it needs to hit deadlines your reviewers may not be aware of.
For all those reasons, the edit rounds need to be reined in.
If too many cooks are spoiling your direct-mail broth, limit the review rounds to one – two at the most. Discourage niggles. Encourage substantive discussions about results and direction, but do it early in the process.
Timing really is everything
The number of channels being used in a marketing campaign can easily exceed a dozen. With a great number of channels comes a great responsibility to manage all the channels, and make sure everything hits in the right sequence to maximize the impact of everything.
Very often, direct mail is the “hammer” – the piece that drives home the message once and for all. That usually means it sits relatively far back in the sequence, far behind paid and organic social, marginally behind outdoor, search and web, and ahead of most TV and print.
There’s no set formula, though. It all depends on your plan, your KPIs and your ultimate goal. What are you looking to get out of all this, and how does each piece contribute to that?
Setting out a campaign is a lot like composing music. Everything has to come in at the appropriate time for the piece to be a success. Just like a director, it’s your responsibility to make sure everyone nails their entrance.
Work with a pro
Even if you don’t consider direct mail to be a huge part of your marketing efforts, you should still work with a direct-mail professional.
Why? Why do you work with a content marketing specialist, an SEO specialist, or any of the other specialists you might engage to help with specific aspects of your marketing?
Especially these days you’re probably not engaged with direct mail every day. You don’t know what’s happening with postal rates. You may not know how AI has changed things. You may not know the latest printing techniques and how they might affect your campaign.
You could try to figure out things on your own, or you could just call a direct-mail specialist (like JHL Digital Direct) and get the answers you need without wondering if you’re doing it right.
Ultimately, the No. 1 best practice for direct mail is about as simple as it gets: Use direct mail strategically and appropriately, and it can work wonders.
If you have questions about the best ways of doing that, contact us. We have answers.
By Dan Topel – 7/12/23