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How to Guide


How to get the best from direct marketing

How to get the best from direct marketing


Direct Marketing involves the planned recording, analysis and tracking of individual customers' (business-to-business or consumer) responses and transactions for the purpose of developing and prolonging mutually profitable customer relationships.


It’s easy to feel sorry for direct marketing when it gets lumbered with names like ‘junk mail’. Of course that’s never a term the marketing industry would use but it’s easy to under the frustrations of the public when they are bombarded daily with unsolicited mail through their letterbox.

This article primarily looks at the issue of direct mail, but direct online marketing does exist as an alternative.

Direct mail is not the most effective means of marketing but you can limit failure with creative thought and targeting. Some 40 per cent is binned without even being opened.

Of the 60 per cent opened, only 20 per cent will be read. Failure is common so what marketers should aim to achieve is for a better than average response – if they can do this, then the results can be rewarding and profitable.

Don’t expect dramatic results instantly. The response rate for a DM letter personally addressed is just 6.7 per cent, while the average response for B2C DM is 7.1 per cent and 6.2 for B2B.

The only way to get DM is right is through practice and learning to do it well. You’re inviting yourself into people’s homes and although you want to catch their attention and encourage them to engage it’s more important not to p**s them off. Sometimes it’s better to be ignored than be the source of someone’s grievance.


1. Test your address lists regularly for response rates
2. Offer a free gift to encourage orders
3. Swap lists but be aware of data protection issues
4. Take advantage of birthdays and holidays to send special personalised greetings
5. Some creative thought can help you stand out from the competition
6. Image is everything in creating the right impression – bad production and poor photography will not project the right image for your brand

Pick up a newspaper or magazine and you’re most likely to be faced with direct response advertising with offers for products and services. It can be an effective route for marketers but make sure you use the correct media brands to reach the right market and your advertising has the right appeal in design and tone.

It needs to have enough information about your product with out being too copy heavy. Finally it needs to be easy to respond to.

Direct Mail can provide a double whammy for carrying advertising - with opportunities to carry messages both on the envelope and on the contents.

Creativity can make your mail both eye catching and creative but letters should contain 3 basic elements: Bait, to catch their attention; Argument, persuading them why they need you and; a Call to Action, encouraging them to sign up or place an order.

So just what do we mean by creative envelope treatments? Well, here are a few ideas:

• Disguise your offer as a bill but be prepared for some negative feedback
• Be direct and upfront with an engaging headline
• The offer of a competition may help the contents being read
• Packages, irregular shapes or other treatments may cost more but may be worth it.
• Be sure to include a circular with product information and a reply form – pre-paid will obviously result in a better response.


If you are a small company or business you may be able to manage data lists simply but as your business grows so might your need to grow or adapt a system. Before so, think about the basic requirements you may need it to:

• Source the purchase details of customers – how recently, how frequently and how much they have been spending.
• Allow the integration of new fields.
• Allow segmentation, and
• Track down individual responses

Mailing lists can be bought from various list owners. Briefing them of your requirements will hopefully deliver something targeted.

Or try to source lists of people who have bought products and services similar to yours. There’s a good chance they may be looking to repurchase. Before you go full steam ahead, test your list first with a cheap sampler mailer. Buying ‘one time’ rights can be a good option – you don’t own the list but do own the responses.

Or if unsure, buy a ‘minimum’ list and put it to the test. If the responses are good then buy more, if not, change your list.

Bear in mind that a number of preferential services will hold back direct marketing from those who don’t want it limiting impact. These include the Mailing Preferential Service (MPS), Baby MPS and for other forms of communication - the Telephone, Facsimile and Email Preferential Services.

Data protection act

Names and addresses – these are just some of people’s personal details. What you do with them is governed by the Data Protection Act (DPA). Although the act only came into effect in 2000 you can still be sued if in breach.

The Act is governed by eight principles, under which data must be:

1. Processed fairly and lawfully
2. Obtained only for specified and lawful purposes
3. Adequate, relevant and not excessive
4. Accurate and up to date
5. Not be kept for longer than is necessary
6. Processed in accordance with the rights of individuals
7. Secure
8. Not be transferred to countries without adequate protection for the individual.

The act can be difficult to navigate but what is important is that you can prove you have received ‘prior consent’ from customers ie. they have informed and consented to being contacted in advance.

Being honest and upfront will stand you better stead with your customers. Every time you communicate with them, they must be given the option to ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’ – this can count as informed consent.

Be sure if buying a list it is from a reputable source, or you have legal cover.

Costs and benefits

Cost can be effected both by the volume of your mail and the Royal Mail’s price in proportion scheme.
Keep costs down through limited trials to tailor your lists.
The benefits if a better than aver age return can mean a profitable success for your business.


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