Direct Mail Order Ideas to Boost Your Response

Gimmicks? Call it what you want, as long as it works!

Telegram
A lot of direct mail pieces get thrown straight in the trash. Making yours stand out in the right way can help prevent that and improve your response rate. nicholas belton / Getty Images

A lot of direct mail pieces get thrown straight in the trash. Making yours stand out in the right way can help prevent that and improve your response rate. Here are ten proven ideas to boost your next direct mail campaign:

1. Simulate an old-style telegram. Direct mail veterans disdain this device because it has been around so long. Yet the odd yellow envelope still gets opened first - along with envelopes that look impressively official, such as legal-sized manila.

2. Include a sample. Firms have sent actual roof tiles. Carpet tiles. Industrial absorbent cloths. Or you could give a coupon, good for a free 30-day trial. You'll find most customers will want to keep it. This is the "puppy dog" sales technique. Or give the first business service free. This is the "guilt" technique. Yes, some prospects will abuse it, but it may still prove very profitable - by driving in volumes of new customers.

3. Give a bulk imprinted envelope a first-class personal touch. Affix canceled postage stamps as well (buy in bulk from a stamp dealer). Foreign stamps add extra interest, if relevant to your offer.

In a now-legendary mailing, a department store featuring international goods stuck on stamps from many different countries and over-printed the envelope: "We've gone around the world for you ..."

4. Stamp "DO NOT OPEN" on the outer envelope. Inside is another envelope: "Do not open ...

unless you want to save $5,000 on your office supplies in twelve months." Inside that is another envelope: "Do not open unless you have the authority to purchase office supplies worth 50,000 or more this year". Inside that is a still smaller envelope: "Do not open unless you have the vision to seize an opportunity you may never have again!" Expensive, but irresistible...

and profitable, for some products.

5. Put a yellow sticker on the envelope: "Review sample. Submitted to ... Your help is needed and will be greatly appreciated. Kindly examine the contents of this mailing - then, if you wish, please send your criticisms or comments to: . . ." Not only will you get comments (some of them useful), but also you will get attention -and orders.

6. Mail a bulky or crinkly package, that obviously has a mysterious enclosure. Like a Christmas stocking, it begs to be opened. In tests, bulky enclosures like pen-and-pad mailings drew double the response of flat enclosures of equal perceived value, like stress indicators.

7. Overwhelm them ... if your potential payoff is very high. A bank delivered just 1,000 mailshots in three teaser stages. Each stage cost $20-$50. First was a real house brick (a small one): "We're as solid as this brick". Next stage was a real diamond (industrial quality): "We're as bright as this diamond". ​The last stage was a real plug-in desk telephone: "We're as close as this telephone. Plug it in. Call us now."

It worked, for the big-ticket investment schemes they were selling. So they say.

Another firm selling design engineering techniques to automotive manufacturers mailed just fifty boxes.

Each contained a 28-page brochure and a five-minute cassette - plus a portable stereo cassette player to play it on. The cassette had a recorded personal message from the firm's chief designer. Each shot cost around $50. They only needed one sale, to pay for the promotion. It worked. They say.

8. Try a fax blast. It costs very little to fax a letter anywhere across the country. Service providers exist that can multiple-fax thousands of your messages automatically. And faxes are "urgent". They get read. Use a reputable fax broadcasting provider, though. Sending unsolicited advertising via fax is illegal in the U.S. and many other countries. A reputable service will have their own  opt-in lists of people willing to receive fax broadcasts.

9. Write the ultimate direct mail letter, one on one. Study a handful of prospect companies very closely.

Discover their turnover, the number of staff, latest product launches or business projects, trends in their market (complete with accurate numbers on market size, growth, etc.) - the same painstaking homework you'd want to do when first meeting a major potential customer face to face.

Find out by a telephone call the name and job title of the person you need to write to and, if possible something about him or her (the firm last worked for, the job last promoted from). Weave all that highly specific information into your letter:

With your sales approaching $12.23 million in fiscal 2009, your company could add $125,000 to its profits this year if you simply shaved 1 per cent off the distribution costs. If you could add just another 1 per cent to your 16 per cent penetration of the $77 million UK market, your present sales would increase to $13 million ... that's a very creditable $104,000 in sales for each of the 125 staff you employ, and well above your industry average.

We have prepared a free report exclusively for you, Mr. Jones, explaining how Smith & Co. can achieve these objectives in fifteen weeks. I will call your office in the next three days, to discuss when I can deliver this report to you.

Such letters are hard work to research and write .. and follow up. (Don't expect the prospect to call you back. You want him to wait expectantly for your call, with a reluctant smile of admiration for your boldness and hard work.) But all you need to do is write a handful each month, and gain a good conversion-to-sale ratio on a big ticket product.

One thing I promise you - most of those you write to will see you. They're dying to know what else you've found out about them!

10. Have you the nerve for this one? If all else has failed (and only then), write a letter like the one above to the big potential customer you've been courting. Fill it with nice things, compliment the company on its achievements, but gently point out how much better it could do if only it let you put your ideas into practice. Title the letter 'An Open Letter to xxx Corporation.'

Get your lawyer to vet it. Why? Because your next step is to buy a page in the prospect's biggest trade paper - and you publish this letter as an advertisement. At worst, you'll receive a cold letter from the company concerned (so what? - you weren't going to get their business anyway.) Plus, expect to pick up some editorial comment - and a lot of admiring trade gossip. Better still, expect a few telephone calls from other big fish who admire your chutzpah and invite you to meet them. At best, you might even get the business you went after in the first place.

Are these ideas gimmicky? A gimmick is just a creative idea that flopped. Provided that you are not fraudulently deceptive or unethical, such colorful devices have been known to work in even the most professional markets.