9 Steps to Successful Direct Mail

Even in the Internet age, many local-service companies rely on direct mail as a supplement or alternative to face-to-face marketing. Successful direct mail presents an image of quality and offers consumers substantive information that they can use. These steps can help you get noticed:

1. Hire a pro. Whatever you spend on paper, printing, and postage will be wasted if your mailing resemble “junk mail.” The services of a design professional are well worth the cost. If experienced designers you talk to are asking too much money, use your networking skills to identify someone who's just starting a business and willing to offer a bargain price.

2. Use an up-to-date, appropriate, and carefully culled mailing list. This will help you avoid mailing to bad addresses. If you're buying a mailing list, request a credit for a returned mail rate higher than 5 percent. Or, try to save money by trading mailing lists with other local business owners or community groups. (Legal caveat: Before you barter, make sure sharing customer information is consistent with your brokerage's privacy policy.)

3. Create your own mailing list. Collection ideas include posting an “add me to your mailing list” feature on your Web site, using an open house guest book, or holding a free home buying seminar. Be sure you keep your list updated.

4. Send a consistent message to the same group of people. Research by marketing expert Edward Strong suggests that messages repeated at monthly or bi-weekly intervals are more effective for recall than weekly messages.

5. Match your marketing. Mirror the look and feel of your Web site and other marketing materials. Consistency is key. All marketing materials — including direct mail — should be easily identifiable as yours.

6. Create a personalized look. When you're doing smaller mailings, consider hand-addressed envelopes and commemorative postage stamps. Pili Meyer, author of Monday Marketing Tips, suggests hand addressing envelopes to your entire database and then picking five envelopes at random per day and writing a note to those clients.

7. Don’t offend. Be sensitive to cultural or political sensitivities by avoiding stereotypes.

8. Include a free special offer, guarantee, or coupon. It gives people a reason to call you. Be sure to stick with something that’s targeted toward your niche. (Legal caveat: Determine if any state laws limit or restrict the use of premiums.)

9. Encourage people to respond. Offer a variety of ways to get in touch, such as toll-free telephone number, e-mail address, social media accounts, or pre-addressed, postage-paid direct-response postcards. According to marketing specialist Pili Meyer, you might also consider incorporating bar code technology into your marketing and direct mail materials. Though it's been around for a long time, the technology has recently "gone mobile," making it easy to encode information that can be accessed through cellphones or other devices. Meyer suggests downloading one of the free QR code apps or searching Google for a free QR code generator. Make sure the QR codes you create send users directly to your Web site. Apply the codes to all marketing materials, including direct mail,  to provide customers with a fun, interactive way to visit your Web site.