full-color mailer with a tired approach is no more a
promotion than a Volkswagen Beetle painted red is a Ferrari.
Think creatively to grab your readers’ attention; focus on a
key idea; and make it worthwhile. “Mailings that offer a
special promotion encourage a response,” says John Schulte,
executive director of the National Mail Order Association in
Small firm practitioners can strengthen
direct mail efforts and double or triple current response
rates by taking a strategic approach. Start your research by
looking at the direct mail you receive every day to come up
with ideas to make your mailings more attractive. If you’re
still at a loss, the following tips will help you create a
sleek direct mail campaign that generates more business.
FROM STUFFY TO GLITZY
The traditional mailing
package consists of a letter, flyer or brochure and a
postage-paid business-reply card in a standard business
envelope. How can you make this sexy? From the outside in,
these basics will make the mailing more appealing:
Personalize it. The first thing recipients see is
the name on the envelope—so avoid mailing labels. Type,
print or even write the address.
Use first-class mail, not bulk, so they know you
Skip tradition entirely—send a colorful postcard or
a self-mailer brochure. (This approach works best when
you’re promoting a workshop, report or new product or
Set a goal and stick with it. What’s
your goal? Every piece of your mailing should highlight why
you are writing, what you are offering and the benefits and
advantages of your service or product. If you use a flyer
and a letter, both pieces should relate to your objective
and complement your business-reply card. In short, if one
piece is separated from the rest of the mailing, it should
work as a stand-alone selling element.
you are writing. Your flyer or letter can address frequently
asked questions about your firm’s services. Add a successful
client case study; list your services in a break-out
Send it to the right address. A
targeted mailing list can generate 8 to 10 times the
response that a haphazard, poorly conceived one does. In
fact, the mailing list is so important, you may discover
that mailing to different, tested lists ups your response
rate by as much as 60%.
Start with your house
list—current clients and prospects you have been
communicating with are your best bet for new business
opportunities. Up-to-date house lists will do more to
generate new business than a list you purchase from a broker
or one you compile from directories or buying guides.
Most small firms don’t use house lists in a way that
maximizes their full potential. About 55% of firms don’t
even include their most promising prospects on their direct
mail database (see exhibit).
Don’t forget your
former clients. You should mail to them periodically; you
never know when they may need to use your services,
especially for special projects.
|Direct Mail Resources
These lists, list suppliers, Web
sites and publications should help you
gain a better understanding of direct
mail marketing and show you how to make
it work for your firm.
for mailing lists include list brokers, list
management firms and list compilers. The Standard
Rate & Data Service offers over 28,000 mailing
and 700 to 800 e-mail lists for both consumer and
business-to-business marketing. The service’s Web
site directory describes the list owners, list
formats, prices and other details; 800-851-7737;
of companies compile lists derived from household
and business directories:
Axiom. A consumer list of more
than 90 million households and 160 million
American Business Information (ABI).
A database of more than 12 million
Donnelley Marketing (a sister of ABI).
A database of 195 million consumers and
105 million households; 800-947-5478.
Dun & Bradstreet.
Segmentation by markets and other
industry factors; 800-469-1007.
lists from more than 200 Web sites; 212-625-1370.
Direct Marketing Association (DMA).
The world’s largest membership
association specializing in direct mail, mail
order, catalog marketing, direct response
advertising and electronic/interactive media.
Information on professional development,
government affairs, events, research and industry
statistics, trends and literature.
Mail Shop USA. Information and
easy access to direct mail using postcards.
National Mail Order Association (NMOA).
One of the best direct marketing
associations for small and midsize companies.
Directories, statistics, new product resources and
direct marketing tips.
TM Tipline. A free weekly
newsletter from the editors of Target Marketing
magazine. Tips, news and resources for direct
Business to Business Direct Marketing: Proven
Direct Response Methods to Generate More Leads
and Sales, by Robert Bly. NTC Business
Books, Lincolnwood, IL. 1998. Topics such as
boosting direct mail response rates, effective
postcard marketing, getting more profitable
response from sales brochures and getting more out
of print ads.
Direct Marketing Rules of Thumb, by Nat
G. Bodian. McGraw-Hill, New York. 1995. Guidelines
and tested ideas and methods for getting the most
Direct Marketing Techniques, by Lois K.
Geller. Crisp Publications, Inc., Menlo Park, CA.
1998. Presents a solid overview of the methods and
techniques of direct marketing.
The New Direct Marketing: How to Implement a
Profit-Driven Database Marketing Strategy, 3rd
ed., edited by Rajeev Batra. McGraw-Hill,
New York. 1999. The theory, ideas and execution of
successful database management—methods to boost
direct mail marketing efforts. Covered topics
include data mining, modeling, data warehouses,
Internet and statistical analysis, among others.
Winning Direct Response Advertising, 2nd ed.,
by Joan Throckmorton. NTC Business Books,
Lincolnwood, IL. 1997. The methods, techniques and
tested ideas behind profitable direct marketing,
from creative planning to successful execution.
Examples of profitable programs from leading
direct response copywriters.
The World’s Greatest Direct Mail Sales
Letters, by Herschell Gordon Lewis and
Carol Nelson. NTC Business Books, Lincolnwood, IL.
1996. Some of the best response-oriented letters
in 11 categories. Letter openings,
attention-getting paragraphs and how to increase
Write on Target: The Direct Marketer’s
Copywriting Handbook, by Donna Baier Stein
and Floyd Kemske. NTC Business Books, Lincolnwood,
IL. 1997. Focus on key direct mail issues and
guidance on writing effectively. Letters,
brochures and response forms.
1 to 1. Published by Direct, Intertec
Publishing; Stamford, CT; 203-358-9900.
Well-rounded articles on print and electronic
direct marketing, including case histories.
Direct. Published by Intertec Publishing;
Stamford, CT; 203-358-9900. Industry trends
applicable to direct mail marketing. The
magazine’s two supplements: TeleDirect and
Direct Marketing. Published by Hoke
Publishing; Long Island, NY; 516-746-6700. One of
the first magazines to address direct mail as a
successful method of marketing. Articles on copy,
design and getting more responses from your
DM News. Published by Mill Hollow Corp.;
New York; 212-925-7300. Weekly newspaper articles
on direct marketing.
Target Marketing. Published by North
American Publishing Co.; Philadelphia;
215-238-5300. The practical side of direct
marketing, including mailing lists, direct mail
packages, ads and Web sites.
Stay in contact. Remember, out of
sight, out of mind. Back up your direct mail campaign with
e-mails and telephone calls. Direct your prospects and
clients to your Web site for updates and new postings. If
you make a special offer or promote a new service, follow up
with a second mailing two weeks after the first. The second
drop should be designed to reinforce the message of the
Add something special. Include
promotional offers in your mailings to help you increase
your response rate. The envelope should alert your clients
and prospects to something in the direct mail package they
can use, such as an offer for a free service or seminar.
Larson Allen Weishair & Co. in Minneapolis annually
sends out coffee beans and mugs with the firm’s logo as a
To get your firm’s name in front of the
client and keep it there, you might send a booklet with
relevant information on accounting and tax issues and your
name on every header or footer, suggests Schulte. Another
idea is offering your entrepreneurial clients a
password-protected business information section on your Web
site. You will increase your response rate if you include a
cut-off date for your promotion. Inform your readers they
must respond by a certain date to receive the promotional
item or service. Be persistent: You may want to try as many
as four different mailings a year.
Yourself—How to Use the House List
to your most profitable clients (the 20% that
give you 80% of your business) at least six
times a year. Each mailing should feature a new
service or a promotion such as a checklist or
- Mail to your second-tier clients (the 50% that
generally use your services for monthly or
quarterly tax services) three or four times a
- Mail to your third-tier clients (the 30% who
use your services only periodically and are
least profitable) at least twice a year.
Some businesses segment their lists
according to how recently clients have used
their services—“recency”—and designate
first-tier clients as those who have used
services within the past three months;
second-tier, six months; third-tier, 12 to 24
WHAT TO TOUT
Letters and promotions from CPA firms often sound stodgy
or bureaucratic. Many CPAs make the mistake of addressing
the reader as just one among thousands. Firms tout how
wonderful they are but neglect to mention that the partners
understand the needs of individuals and families as well as
It’s therefore important that you write
your copy with the reader’s benefits, rewards and goals in
mind. How will your services add to his or her long-term
success? Create a relationship with the reader by using the
word you instead of the word we. Back up your promises with
client case studies that prove your performance. And zero in
on what makes your firm different from the pack. Highlight
how your special services are tailor-made for your client’s
Again, it’s vital that you set your goal
and make a strong offer—your readers need a reason to call
back and ask you to tell them more. For example, write, “We
specialize in employee-focused programs for growing
companies like yours, including employee stock ownership
plans, 401(k) plans, stock options and deferred compensation
Content, content, content. Make your
message clear and to the point by using short sentences and
avoiding buzzwords and esoteric information. Close your
message with a request for action, such as “Call to set up
an appointment at....” Include a postscript—readers often
are drawn to the P.S. before they read the body of the
letter. The postscript should repeat the big idea or special
offer, or it should present an additional incentive. It
might state, “Call for your free business tax-saving guide,
and we’ll also send you a copy of our checklist: ‘21 Ways to
Reduce Taxes This Year.’”
Upping trust. Smaller firms like to
raise the confidence level of prospective clients,
especially growing businesses that think they need larger
firms to handle their affairs. Build a level of trust by
including credible testimonials of clients of comparable
size. You also should mention your involvement in the
business community by listing your memberships in
professional organizations and accrediting bodies and
professional and trade organizations. Include your
participation in the local chamber of commerce and the
Better Business Bureau. (See the sidebar for additional
techniques to improve the response rate to your direct mail
See how easy that was? It’s not hard to be creative; it
just takes a little extra time and effort. By now you’ve
made it through busy season, so make the time to sit down
with your partners and do some brainstorming. You soon can
be sending a direct mail product that is as good as—or even
better than—the ones that turn your head today.
What Works in Direct Mail
The following tried-and-true techniques
should increase your response rate.
Zeroing in on a key idea usually is more
effective than trying to cover too much. |
Write a better letter. The letter
is the most important part: Make it interesting,
inviting, clear and effective. Make it a personal,
Differentiate. Copy that
integrates your firm’s strengths, abilities and
accomplishments with client success stories
usually does better than copy simply listing your
skills, experience and services, or that says your
firm is wonderful.
Have some style. Copy set in
upper- and lowercase type is easier to read than
copy that’s all capitals. Use subheads, bullets
and highlighted words as eye-catchers; intersperse
with paragraph indents to break up long blocks of
copy. Avoid phrases conveying uncertainty such as
we think, it appears, it seems or
you might find.
Lay it out with panache. Graphic
layouts should be clean, organized and well
balanced. The best layouts lead the reader through
the mailing pieces just as a good retail store
layout leads shoppers through aisles to key
displays. (This principle applies to Web page
Feature one image. The main
photograph or illustration should convey your most
important point while others focus on secondary
ideas. Pictures showing activity get more
attention than those that say very little. A photo
of your client receiving an award for “best
turnaround business” will generate more interest
than a photo of your office building.
Illustrations increase readership by as much as
Don’t use reverse print (white or
yellow copy on a black or dark background). It is
too difficult to read, and it’s expensive to
Do not fold (and mutilate). The
first thing prospects and clients should see when
they unfold your mailing is what you consider the
most important message, so be sure to avoid folds
that run through key visuals or design elements.
Make sure the design permits flyers and
brochures to fit into their envelopes. Check with
the post office for weight and size specifications
if you contemplate anything out of the ordinary.
It probably has a template you can use as a guide.
|Personalize your letters.
Letters addressed to specific people get
better response than those with “Dear Sir” or “Dear
Madam.” Functional titles such as “Dear Commercial
Real Estate Investor” can be effective salutations.
Two-page letters that are specific and
informative usually outpull one-page letters
filled with generalities. The copy should appeal
to the reader’s self-interest and present a parade
of advantages: “The more facts and benefits you
tell, the more you sell.” And if you can afford
to, add a second color to liven up the page.
Include two letters in one package.
One California CPA firm tested a direct
mail package with two letters: One was from the
client account representative and the other was
signed by the founder of the firm. The founder’s
letter talked about the firm’s accomplishments and
abilities and its specialties; the account rep’s
letter expanded on the founder’s letter and
presented readers with two successful case
The two-letter direct mail
package was tested against a one-letter package.
After six months, the CPA firm found the
two-letter package had 21% more responses than the
Design sophisticated flyers and brochures.
Brochures and flyers that are busy and
look cluttered tend to be perceived as “low end”
or designed for a less sophisticated audience.
Conversely, those that are well organized and make
use of generous white space are perceived as
organized, systematic and professional.
Put your most important message up front. The
first page of your mailing acts like a headline in
an ad—as many as 70% of your readers won’t read
beyond the first message if it doesn’t present a
big benefit, an irresistible offer or an
Make them an offer they can’t refuse.
Tell your readers what you are offering
and why they should respond. Think of special
bonuses that will help solve a particular client
problem or improve business performance. For
example, a free yearend tax cutting guide offer
will elicit more interest than a desk calendar.
Richard Siedlecki is a
marketing and business development consultant in Atlanta. He
specializes in direct response marketing. His e-mail address