Greenwood Retail M.D. Bernard Eaton reviews the relevance of direct mail marketing in today’s digital media world.

Digital marketing in all its forms is now a firmly established and fast growing part of the marketing landscape and should be included as part of any modern marketing campaign. So, the question is, do we abandon the old ways in favour of the new? Or should we adopt a collective approach combining all methods?

Advocates of digital marketing make much noise about the cost comparison between direct mail and e mail. They’ll also bang on about the ease, speed and even the environmental benefits of e mail and online marketing. And all this is true, but, what about the sales results, the controllability and the measurability? What about the all-important Return on Investment?

I put these questions to industry leading Direct Mail specialist Curtis Morgan of BBS Ltd who said: “Over 50% of emails are deleted without even being read and how often do you go back and browse through an email contemplating whether to take up an offer?

“We serve over 450 retailers of which over 80 are members of AIS, I am regularly informed by my clients that without exception Personalised Direct Mail is the most effective media to use for promoting both footfall and driving traffic to events.

“Personalised and targeted DM enables us to hit the target market with absolute precision with the right message to promote an event. It’s incredibly successful for both customer retention and finding new customers especially with the increasing drop in circulation from local newspapers.

“Also, Direct Mail offers longevity where the promotion is kept inside the consumer’s front door for typically 3 weeks. Often invitations are kept in prominent positions within the household so they don’t forget.”

“We have just sent out over 1 million mail order catalogues for a client, that whilst all their business is done on line and we have all the clients email addresses, the customer needs to read the catalogue, feel the pages and be inspired by the imagery and offers presented to them. A call to action with a short time period ensures we get a very measurable response within a short time period.”

A compelling argument indeed which reflects our own considerable experience of using direct mail along with many other media channels. We at Greenwood Retail remain convinced, based on experience, that a good Direct Mail or ‘Snail Mail’ campaign will still generate the highest return on investment when compared with any digital method alone – even factoring in the higher outlay.

There is simply no comparison – in terms of worth - between the ping of a message or e mail, and the physical thud of a weighty, printed letter landing on your floor. As your grandparents lectured you – “always get it in writing!”

While digital words (especially e mails) are now accepted as legal written material, the value of actually opening an envelope and holding in your hands a real printed personal invitation to a special sales event, outweighs the utterly ignorable and easily delete-able electronic communication, perhaps a hundred times over, or more.

If you’ve had a disappointing experience with direct mail, don’t give up. Here follows a concise guide on how to create an effective Direct Mail campaign for your business. We will suppose the objective is to launch a major sales event for an established independent furniture retailer or department store.

First, you must identify your target market. Start with your own previous customers. They will always respond most strongly to your marketing initiatives. We have recorded response rates of up to 25% (actual store visits – not hits, calls or pings!) from a good customer database. If you already have a database, make sure it is up date and that it should be cleaned and de-duplicated at least every year.

If you don’t have a current database, be assured that it will be well worth the effort to build one – or the cost to have one built for you. And remember, once it is built, it can be used several times a year, merely requiring occasional updating and cleaning. There is no need for special software. A simple spreadsheet such as Excel will do nicely. Include the name and address details of every customer going back at least six years and up to ten years if you have the records on paper dockets and/or on a computerised accounting system. The list can be de-duplicated and cleaned later.

You can use the trusty A.I.D.A. formula to compose your letters and flyers:

A – ATTENTION: Grab the reader’s attention with an attractive headline.

I – INTEREST: Get them interested in the product or service by advocating its benefits.

D – DESIRE: Make them desire the product or service with a tempting offer.

A – ACTION: Call the prospect to action with a deadline.

Typically, small to medium sized independent retailers hold somewhere between 4000 to 8000 customer name and address records going back six years. This is usually sufficient in number for the effective promotion of a seasonal sales event. But why not take the opportunity to win new customers as part of your campaign? Additional consumer data is readily available at an affordable cost. Due to the recent improvements in targeting technology, we have recently recorded store visit responses of up to 12% from bought in lists of new prospects. An astonishing improvement on the circa 1% responses seen from the blunderbuss data selection methods of the distant past. It is not unusual for even smaller independent retailers to send mailings from 10,000 to 20,000 pieces comprised of their own list, complimented by an additional new prospect list. Don’t underestimate the true value of winning a new customer – it’s not just one purchase – they will usually make many purchases over time and recommend you to their family and friends too.

Consider hiring a direct marketing specialist to research your market, clean & profile your existing client information and help you to select an optimised complimentary data list of potential new customers.

A specialist can save you time by fulfilling the printing, packing and handling of your mailing. Also, the extra costs are mostly outweighed by the postage savings which are available via these companies.

However, none of the above will result in a positive outcome unless the sales message is effective. I have always evangelised the critical point that, if your advertising initiative has failed, don’t shoot the messenger. It is hardly ever the media channel which is at fault. It’s almost certainly the message which has not been effective. The truth is that most advertising does not work very well. Think very carefully about the content and design of your material.

I often use the analogy of creating a party invitation when creating a sales invitation. We consider who to invite and we want plenty of these people to turn up. So any invitation must of course clearly state what, where and when, but it must also include the elements that will ensure they don’t want to miss out on the party. A good party invitation talks about the celebration, the food & drink and the band etc. Your sale invitation should enthuse about the title of the sale, the quality of the goods and the great special offers.