Direct Mail Still Works!

Several months ago, two of our clients – one, a major HVAC company and the other, one of the largest providers of natural gas in the US – teamed up to promote natural gas to oil heating customers in the region. Their goal was seemingly simple: get households that use heating oil to convert their system to natural gas heat, which is efficient, cleaner and more economical.

Our assignment was to create a direct mail campaign to introduce this promotion to a select group of prospects. Our client was willing to offer $1000 to help offset the cost of switching to natural gas. The kicker: a conversion could cost up to $9000, we were mailing before the Christmas holiday, and the heating season had been unusually warm so far. Talk about the odds stacking up against us!

Fast forward three months and you’d find two very happy clients. A test mailing of 500 pieces yielded 47 in-person sales appointments and a dozen installation agreements. The second wave of several thousand mail pieces is delivering the same type of results. So how does a direct mail campaign – one costing less than $15,000 – create hundreds of thousands of dollars of immediate revenue and even more long-term recurring revenue?

We targeted the right prospects. Not only did our prospects currently use oil to heat their homes, they also had an unused natural gas connection on their property. This made it profitable for our clients to connect their house to natural gas, and convenient for the prospect to have that done. We even referenced their property’s connection location on the mail piece. Building a high-value mail list was key to the success of this campaign.

The package was eye-catching. If you want your mail to get noticed, then make it noticeable. Sure, the creative was top-notch: compelling, witty, attention-getting. In fact, more than 90% of the prospects remembered receiving our mail piece. But the packaging took it over the top. The mailer, which took the form of a booklet, was printed to look like a diary. We mailed it in a clear plastic envelope (how often do you get those in your mailbox?). There was a personalized savings certificate paper-clipped to the booklet, which creating a bulge in the envelope. And the piece was big…measuring 11” wide x 6” tall. Long story short, you can create a beautiful mailer, but if your prospect doesn’t open it, all is lost. Make it stand out!

Always be selling. I mentioned above that the creative was compelling. It was fun, light-hearted, witty, tongue-in-cheek. A prospect reading it would actually enjoy going through the pages of the booklet, even though the topic of the booklet was educating the prospect on the advantages of natural gas over heating with oil. Not exactly the most exciting stuff, right? Yet, people read it, took notice, and then took action. Why? Because we wrote a strong call-to-action on every page. Each page was created to get the prospect to move to the next page, until they got to the last page and found a personalized $1000 savings certificate. We instructed them clearly on what to do next: call for a consultation. And it worked…nearly 20% of our prospects responded to our mailer.

We followed up. It’s easy for a prospect to get excited about a direct mail offer, then procrastinate and forget about it. That’s why proactive follow-up is critical. Since our database included the prospects’ phone numbers, our client was able to create a script for their sales team to use to follow up with prospects after the mailing reached their mailboxes. This technique—marrying direct mail with telephone follow-ups—is an extremely effective tactic. Not only did this give the prospect an opportunity to ask questions prior to scheduling a sales call, but it also allowed the sales people to address objections from prospects on the phone and then move on to the next step of the sales process—the appointment.

It’s clear that in this case, direct mail worked beautifully. I often hear similar stories from other clients about the effectiveness of direct mail, even when some marketers disregard good old direct mail as an afterthought to email, internet marketing, social media and the Web in general. Sure, it takes time and effort to plan an effective direct mail campaign. Some marketers, especially those that grew up in the Digital Age, see it as ‘old school’ – expensive, unreliable, ineffective, a waste of money. From my view, those misconceptions exist because doing direct mail is easy, but doing it well is difficult. It takes experience and practice to get it right. And unlike email, with direct mail you only get one chance. Make a mistake with a campaign, and you just lost a month of work.

Still, there’s something about the tangible qualities about a beautifully executed mail piece that drives prospects to take action. The same thing can’t be said about marketing that shows up on a computer screen. Direct mail deserves a place in your marketing mix if it’s done right. Direct mail still works if it’s done right; the results speak for themselves.




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