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Added: November 17, 2008
Article rating: 3 (of 5) - 2 votes

Eight Common Direct Mail Mistakes

[ by Alan Sharpe ]
Some companies that use direct mail to sell their products and services are like the blind man in the dark room looking for the black cat that isn't there. They repeat the same mistakes, and enjoy the same poor results. Here are their eight most common misdemeanors, and a cure for each.

Wrong list
The most important part of any direct mail campaign is not the copy. It's not the art direction. And it's not the offer. It's the mailing list.

That's why you can mail identical packages to two lists, one good and one poor, and find that the good list pulls 10 times more responses than the poor list does. Your mailing list, after all, is not just a way to reach your market. It is your market.

No testing
There are no answers in direct mail except test answers. I didn't write that. Eugene Schwartz, the author of Breakthrough Advertising, did.

If you don't test one package against another, one list against another, you won't know what works and what fails. So test lists. Test offers. Test formats. Test envelope teaser copy. Don't assume you know what works. Test and be sure.

No offer
The second most important part of a direct mail package is the offer. The offer aims to persuade readers to choose your product or service over what your competitors are selling. Your offer must differentiate you from the competition by way of price, terms, guarantees or extras.

To generate leads, offer free technical information, a free analysis, free consultation, free demonstration, free trial use or free product sample. To build retail traffic, offer premiums, special discounts or exclusives. To sell a product directly through the mail, offer a free trial, sample, premium or discount.

Starting with you, not me
You're at a party. You meet two people. One greets you this way: "Hi, I'm a swell person and I make lots of money. But enough about me, what do you think about me?" The other greets you this way, "Hi, I'm Tony. You look like an interesting person. Tell me about yourself."

Now, then, which of these two people would you rather talk to? Your readers prefer to hear you talk about them, not about yourself or your product. Yet many businesses mail sales letters that begin: "ABC Incorporated was founded in 1982 and is in the business of delivering quality, service and value into the new millennium." Big yawn. Big mistake. Aim your messages at the prospect and say everything from the prospect's point of view. Don't begin your copy with "we" when you can begin with "you."

Slow in getting to the point
You have five seconds. After that, your reader is either still reading or is preparing your mailing for a flight test into the wastepaper basket.

Don't make the mistake of a slow build-up. Avoid the roundabout approach. Start your letter with your most compelling sales point. Fire your biggest cannon in the first line of copy. Promise your reader a benefit. Give them a reason to continue reading.

Poor follow-up
Don't spend all your time and effort in generating a response and none in following up inquiries. Slow fulfillment is ly.

So are inadequate marketing literature and unprofessional telemarketing. They can destroy the interest that you work so hard to build. Fill requests for information within 48 hours. Send follow-up mailings to those who do not respond first time. Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up.

No time limit
Time may heal all wounds, but it kills response. Your enemy is procrastination. Your enemy is tomorrow.

Don't make the mistake of letting your readers put you off until they forget your mailing altogether. Put a time limit on your offer: "Call now. This offer expires June 1, 1999." Time-limited offers almost always outpull offers with no time limit.

No call for action
Ask for the order. BUY NOW! PHONE TODAY! ORDER YOUR FREE SAMPLE! If you don't ask for a response, you won't get one. Tell readers what to do. Show them the next step. Make your order form easy to read and easy to follow.

Fortunately, others have gone before us. My favourite sources for tested, practical wisdom on direct mail techniques are Successful Direct Marketing Methods by Bob Stone and anything by Herschell Gordon Lewis.
Alan Sharpe is a business-to-business direct mail copywriter
and lead generation consultant who helps high-tech firms
attract new clients using creative, cost-effective direct mail.

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