This Old-School Marketing Technique Can Triple Your Responses

direct-mail-02-2016_114301It’s seen as old-fashioned ‘junk mail’ by some, but direct-mail marketing is paying off for many entrepreneurs.

Bryce Goldman and James Brennan know a thing or two about what it takes to look good. The co-founders of Kopari Beauty, a San Diego-based skin care product maker, have been using direct mail for years because, even though it is more expensive than email, it has unbeatable stopping power.

“It’s about catching their eye,” Brennan says. Kopari’s mail pieces, he adds, “are looking to make conversions and sales, but it’s just as important to make impressions.”

They’ve gotten pretty good at both: The company gets a response rate of 2.5 to 3 percent on its 25,000-piece, two-sided color mailings, triple the national average of the standard email campaign.

Direct mail, one of the most maligned marketing practices, is having a moment. It is used in 57 percent of marketing campaigns, up 7 percent over 2015 and second only to email. It’s used more often than social media, online display ads, and paid search. Response rates can reach 5.3 percent when you use a “house list” of existing customers and opt-in recipients, and overall they are up almost 2 percent compared with last year. That dwarfs the 0.3 to 0.9 percent scored by all of the tracked digital methods, according to the Direct Marketing Association’s 2016 Response Rate Report.

But the high price of sending out all that paper means it can cost more than twice as much to get a customer response as it does for an email campaign. So how could direct mail be the right choice for your business?

When done right, the return on investment is surprising, say founders who have come to rely on it as a powerful tool in their marketing arsenal.

As the marketing manager of Fox’s Pizza Den, a family-owned franchise business spanning 25 states, Adam Haupricht mails 500,000 promotional postcards at a time. The campaigns cost 25 cents per piece including postage, and Haupricht says he’s seen new stores increase sales as much as 30 to 40 percent over 30 weeks using them. Keeping it fresh is the key, he says. “A generic postcard with the same old coupons on the back–no menu, nothing fancy–is the least effective,” Haupricht says. He talks to the owners of the company’s 250 franchises about ideas for each new mailing. “I say, ‘Hey, what do you want to try? What’s working? What’s not?’ ”

Using these strategies, you can turn junk mail into customers.

Put a face on it
Your pictures are crucial for maximizing direct mail’s “trust factor,” says Joy Gendusa, CEO of marketing company PostcardMania. “With B2B mailings, for example, I always recommend that there be a photo of some person at the company on the card,” she says. “That just makes it real, instead of a stock photo.” Passport Health, which operates more than 250 travel-immunization clinics around North America, has successfully used postcards that feature exotic animals. Last spring, a postcard campaign increased the rate of customers seeking booster shots by 10 to 14 percent in the first month, according to Vicki Sowards, Passport’s director of nursing resources.

Take it online
“Your direct mail can’t sit off by itself,” says Liz Miller, senior vice president of the CMO Council, a network of marketing executives. “It can be scannable by phone. It should have links to your social media. It should look like your website and have the same content, the same tone, the same language. It’s all got to connect to online and offline strategies.”

Target, and track, your ideal buyer
Using consumer data from providers like Experian, you can target your direct mail to your ideal market, and then link responses to individual customers’ social media accounts, email addresses, and mobile phones.

Outsource the tough stuff
Outsourcing your mailings to a specialist shop means you won’t need to study postal regulations, mailing-list composition, or what’s ominously called “list hygiene.” Direct mail must be sorted by ZIP code and route, and doing that “improperly might cost an additional two pennies per piece,” says Brian Johnson, owner of Mail Shark, a direct-mail services company.

Don’t be a wimp
“Business owners will pick a wimpy offer, something that doesn’t cost them a lot of money,” says Steven Wagner, owner of the postcard mailer Health Media Concepts. “Be aggressive. You’ve got to break through the clutter, or you’re going to waste your money.” So instead of a 10 percent discount, take the advice of Paul Bobnak, head of Who’s Mailing What!, a direct-mail and email library, and offer a substantial freebie­–a report, a product sample, or even a tote bag–to “move the needle in a major way.”

From the November 2016 issue of Inc. magazine.

See more of Etelka Lehoczky’s writing on business topics.