Generating Business with Direct Mail

Direct Mail…  Everyone’s got an opinion about Direct Mail.

People who make a lot of money from the sales it helps them generate – absolutely love it.

People who’ve tried it once, didn’t know what they were doing and failed, think it’s a waste of time!

People who blast out email campaigns because it’s FREE think Direct Mail is ‘old hat’ and has been replaced by email.  In fact, legions of people believe this, which is why so much less Direct Mail is being sent these days.  The result is…  ‘Less competition’ for those people who still use it to generate business.  

It’s the same with anything… If you’re looking for a strategic advantage over your competitors, don’t follow the sheep!

So how do you get Direct Mail to work?

Firstly, here are the main components that make up a Direct Mail campaign and the relative importance of each component.

  • The list or database
  • The offer proposition
  • Headline
  • The creative treatment
  • The response mechanism
  • Timing

 The list or database

The database/mailing list is the most important item in any Direct Mail campaign.

Quite simply, if you mail the ‘wrong people’ or if the list is poor quality, it doesn’t matter how good the offer proposition or the rest of the mailing pack components are, you’re not going to sell anything.

A point on targeting worth considering is that poor targeting reduces the cost-effectiveness of the whole marketing program. However, target ‘too tightly’ and you stand a chance of missing your target audience altogether.

The offer proposition

The next most important item is the offer proposition.

This is not the product or service you are selling but the deal you are offering your prospective customer to persuade him or her to buy your product, or in the case of a multi-stage sales process, to identify himself to you as a prospect.

The difference is crucial. Think about it. Which of the following do you think will give the better response?

  1. I am writing to you to tell you about our latest laser printer. It prints faster and costs less to run than any other printer on the market.
  2. I am writing to you with an incredible offer. To celebrate the launch of our latest laser printer (which prints faster and costs less to run than any other printer on the market) we are delighted to offer you £500 trade in for your old printer.

 Surprisingly, most of the Direct Mail we receive at Hawkes-Ogilvy Direct Response, does not include anything resembling an ‘offer proposition’. Presumably, the marketing managers at these companies are not judged by results!

Remember, the offer proposition generally has the biggest influence on the success of your campaign after the choice of mailing list and your headline.


The headline is the most important part of the actual letter itself.  This is because the headline is almost always the first thing your potential customer will read.  So, if your headline doesn’t attract attention, introduce your offer proposition and be persuasive enough to get the recipient reading the first paragraph – You have failed at the starting block!

The creative treatment

Once you have decided which product or service you want to sell and to whom, and you have developed a strong offer proposition, the next step is linking all the textural components together in a way that will make the letter/pack create interest and generate a response.

This is where the creative treatment is required.

The objective of the creative treatment is to gain the reader’s attention and then keep their attention until each part of your selling message has been understood.

This requires focusing on one dominant idea. Try to base this on the main selling point which will have the strongest appeal to the mailing recipient. You can think of it as salesmanship in print.

How to write successful Direct Mail is an exhaustive subject. However, to give you a good starting point, we have provided a breakdown of the main components which could be used to construct a basic letter.

Try creating some text for each of the following parts:

  1. Introduction to the offer proposition.
  2. A description of the product or service you are selling.
  3. A list of benefits describing how the product or service will help the readers i.e. / Save them money / Make them money / Make their lives easier / Make their businesses more successful / Make their jobs more secure / Make their lives more interesting. It’s also worth remembering that:  almost everyone likes a bargain / People like to be entertained but be careful with humor (No one ever bought anything from a Clown) and People are easily bored and confused – So keep it simple and to-the-point.
  4. What the reader needs to do to take advantage of the offer proposition. Use strong calls to action i.e. ‘Post back the reply card today…’
  5. Limit the offer to a given time scale i.e. “To take advantage of the offer, respond immediately to avoid missing the xxx deadline”.  A good place for this is in the PS at the bottom of the letter.


The Response Mechanism

So you now have a top quality mailing list, a strong offer proposition presented in a logical and convincing way in your letter.

All you need to do now is make it as easy as possible for the prospect to respond to your offer.

You ideally need to limit the response to one or a maximum of two mediums. This follows the same principle as a ‘Close’ in a sale. If you offer more than two options, you’re increasing the level of decision-making that the prospect needs to go through, reducing your probability of getting the lead or a sale.  In Direct Response Marketing, procrastination is one of your biggest enemys, so keep it simple.

The simplest and most effective response mechanisms used to be the Fax Response Sheet. It costs very little to produce and was widely accepted by business consumers.  It’s a great shame that many businesses no longer use fax machines.

Here are the pros and cons of a few alternatives:

 Vehicle                                     Effectiveness                                              

 Telephone number                    Least effective – apart from existing customers, the chance of getting a business prospect to respond by telephone is extremely slim.

 Fax                                          Highly effective – used to be brilliant because it requires little effort on the part of the recipient to respond to your offer.  However, be warned… fewer and fewer businesses have fax machines these days.

 Post – Business Reply               Highly effective – performance similar to Fax response but involves increased logistics ie setting up an account with the post office and special postmark printing on the card or envelope.

 Email                                        It works – but asking people to email you increases the probability of them procrastination or just not bothering to respond.  Your worst nightmare as a Direct Response Marketing specialist is not the recipient who has no interest in what ever it is your selling, it’s the prospect who loves it and thinks, I must email this company to get more information and then just procrastinates and forgets to do it. 

Web Site                                   Same as Email.


Timing can have a big influence on response.  So when should you run your campaign? Here are a few guidelines:

  • December is generally the worst month for Direct Mail to arrive (with the exception of seasonal mail)
  • Try to avoid your mailing arriving on public holidays
  • Try to avoid your mailing arriving during a week containing a public holiday
  •  Be careful about mailing during the summer holiday months. Generally, summer is a bad time for Direct Mail, with many buyers away on holiday/vacation. However, you don’t need to write it off completely. Some campaigns will give good results during this period. This is possibly because the prospects that aren’t on vacation probably won’t receive that much mail from anyone else. My advice is to test the market with a small mailing first and if it works, follow it up with a larger one immediately.

The day of the week can also have a big impact on response. If your pack arrives on the desks on a Monday, your probability of success will be dramatically reduced for two reasons:

  1. The amount of post received is usually higher on Mondays.  Which means the competition for the readers attention is higher.
  2. Most people are not at their most receptive on Monday mornings.

Fridays is also not a great day for Direct Mail to arrive because:

  1.  Being the end of the week, people tend to focus on trying to finish the weeks work in order to make a sharp exit at 5pm, rather than reviewing a new mailing offer.
  2. If the prospect is interested in your offer but doesn’t respond immediately, after 2 days out of the office, the probability is that it will have been forgotten altogether by the following Monday.

From our own experience, Tuesday proved to be the best day for both Direct Mail and Telephone campaigns with Wednesday and Thursdays coming in joint second.


So now that we’ve covered the basics of how to make your Direct Mail campaign work, you can start to plan your campaign strategy. The following items should form the foundation of your campaign strategy:

  • The product you are selling
  • The proposition you are going to use to sell the product or generate a sales lead
  •  The target audience (who you are offering it to)
  •  The timing (when your campaign should run)

To make planning your campaign as simple as possible, Hawkes-Ogilvy Direct Response have a simple campaign briefing document which you can be used as a framework for gathering all the information you will need to put your campaign together.   Request a copy here