Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get a list of names of prospective customers?

There are a number of list brokers that can supply lists to match your criteria. Dun & Bradstreet are perhaps the best known, although other companies, such as Experian can provide the same type of service.

Always ask the broker how recently the data was updated and checked - you need to be sure that you are buying a quality list. You will also want to check that the supplied format is acceptable to whoever is building your mailing list database. Make sure they have experience of your marketplace. Lists are normally bought on a cost-per-thousand basis.

What response rate can I expect from my direct mail campaign?

It depends on the campaign. There are so many things that contribute to the success or failure of a mailing. And lots of other things affect the uptake of your product or service. Ask youself: is the product right? Is it priced competitively? Is there sufficient demand? Is the timing right? How persuasive is the "creative" (the flyer or mailshot)? All these factors affect uptake and so you cannot be certain of a given response rate. You can however, look at industry standards and statistics as guidance.

Examples of different response rates for different industries might be:

  • Financial company introducing a new credit card - up to 2.5%
  • A publisher promoting books at a discounted rate - up to 4%
  • A free drinks voucher mass-mailed to households with teenagers - 55%
  • As a rule, door-to-door selling gets a lower response rate than direct mail - often less than 0.5%.

The most important thing is to measure the success – or failure – of different marketing methods and bear this in mind when you embark on future campaigns.

How do I build a database?

A database can be a simple list, or a complex computerised system running across a Intranet. As such, there is no single, step-by-step approach to building a database. There are many packages on the market that enable you to create a database quite easily. The most common of these in Microsoft Access and for many applications this system is perfectly acceptable. Larger organisations with multi-tasking and relational requirements may need more sophisticated solutions, such as Oracle multi-user systems. Take time to assess the needs of your business as a whole and then invite specialists to advise on how best to move forward. A database can be a powerful marketing tool if used effectively. If you are building a database, be aware of the Data Protection Act – and the rules affecting you.

How often should we send out our mailings?

This is simply down to requirements and budget. There is no fixed timescale that guarantees the best results. A hotel, for instance, might mail to its guests on a seasonal basis; a college or school, in advance of each term or intake. How often is always set by the needs of your chosen market.

How do I test and evaluate my campaign?

Testing ensures that you spend your budget cost-effectively. You should aim to identify a range of information to establish how cost-effective your direct mailing activities are and the cost of winning each inquiry or sale.

  • Compare the results from one mailing list or selection with another.
  • Test offers against each other to see what works and what doesn’t.
  • Try mailing the same offer at different times of the year.
  • Try changing the headline, layout or the visual to see what impact this has on response levels.
  • Look at the way people respond to you, i.e. by phone, fax, e-mail, freepost, or through your website. Over time you will see how your target audience wants to respond to you.

Is direct marketing more effective than 'normal' advertising?

People often ask if direct marketing is more effective than mass media advertising – that is advertising on TV, radio and newspapers. Mass advertising seeks to build awareness, encourage people to try products and stimulate demand among a very large audience. It also aims to reinforce other mediums, such as direct mail, by adding brand credibility, prestige and confidence.

Mass media therefore supports more targeted media and vice-versa; in simple terms the two must work together. Direct marketing techniques do enable you to more easily test, quantify and refine your approach. For many smaller advertisers this is the most important factor.

What works – and what doesn’t?

There is no magic formula for laying out and writing the "perfect ad" or direct mail leaflet. There are, however, things you should consider when looking over the quality of a piece of direct mail.

Copy length: There is no evidence to suggest short copy is any better than long copy. The important consideration when looking at copy length is the existing knowledge of your potential customers and the type of product/service you are "selling". The copy can be longer if it is interesting and well laid out and your potential customer has little knowledge about your product or service. Use bullet points, major selling points and use sub-headings to break up long copy.

Organise the selling message - AIDCA: Write your sales message in this tried and tested manner. Remember

Attention (usually the headline or envelope message);

Interest (tell them something that is relevant and beneficial);

Desire (the prospect now needs to desire your service or product);

Conviction (the reassurance - who else can testify for the benefits? What evidence can you provide?);

Action (don't forget to tell your prospect what to do next - and make it simple!).

Mailing pack essentials: Make sure you have all the essentials in place. Direct mail normally uses a pre-printed envelope, with message; a personalised letter to the customer and background leaflet.

The job of the envelope message is to help the prospect to see an immediate benefit, the letter's job is to sell the proposition and the leaflet's role is to describe the service/product in greater detail. You must also make sure it is easy for someone to respond to all this.

Use Freephone and Freepost to help people reply as much as possible and pre-complete name and address details if you already hold these on a database. It will help you to fulfil responses later.

Typestyle: Research undertaken by Australian researcher, Colin Wheildon, to determine which typefaces work best, comes down firmly in favour of serif typefaces such as Times, Courier and Palatino. There are of course many other similar typefaces. The research tested the reader's ability to comprehend information and assess concepts from work they had viewed. The use of serif type was in some cases up to five times as effective as sans faces (Univers, Helvetica, Arial etc.). Type should also be laid out on a light background in a strong colour.

Use demonstration and involvement: Try to find ways to involve prospective customers. This could be a free gift that is relevant to the sales message or it could be a testimonial by a trusted third party.

Use a 'PS': This always adds more interest and intrigue. In many instances the PS can act as the headline! There are a number of theories as to why a PS works on a sales letter, but perhaps it's because people tend to read it first.

Use captions wisely: The caption is there to clarify the benefit of the picture. Why is the picture there? What does it mean to the prospective or existing customer? Try to avoid corporate statements to support pictures that add little value to the sales message.

In direct mail, unusual shapes and materials bring a higher return: try to avoid the predictable. If your mailing looks plain and boring, then you could forgive the recipient for thinking that your offer will be ordinary too. Textured papers, unusually shaped envelopes and a number of mailings sent out in a sequence all improve uptake. This type of approach will not be the cheapest to implement, but you should get a better return.

Remember, all these ideas can work for you. However, your mailing list has to be good; the offer has to be attractive; and the timing has to be right for your campaign to be a true success.