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Successful direct mail.

This checklist provides guidance for those who wish to undertake a direct mail advertising campaign.


Information technology has allowed direct mail campaigns to become increasingly sophisticated as large amounts of information can be collected, stored and retrieved on both industrial and private consumers. It is now possible to obtain lists of addresses on particular groups to which an organisation or individual can send direct mail to advertise their products or services. Companies also collect information on their customers, ranging from birthdays to purchasing habits, so they can tailor a marketing message particular to each individual.

This one-to-one form of communication can be very effective, but to do it properly requires careful planning and design. The scale of the direct mail campaign and the number of customers contacted will depend on the size of the organisation (ranging from single individuals to multi-national corporations) and the resources available. The procedure, however, remains the same.

There are many advantages to using direct mail, these include:

* individuals are communicated with on a person-to-person level

* wastage can be low if targeted individuals are carefully selected

* effectiveness is easily and quickly measured

* initial testing is easy (by sending out to a sample of addresses)

* can save time and money for the recipient as they do not have to visit a shop

* it can be more convenient for the recipient who can decide at leisure.

National Occupational Standards for Management and Leadership

This checklist has relevance for the following standards: F: Achieving results, unit 4


Direct marketing is the distribution of information, products or services through any advertising medium that involves the individual to respond directly to the advertiser (Direct Marketing Association).

Action checklist

1. Define the terms of reference

Identify what you want to achieve by using direct mail. Is it, for example, a general awareness campaign or is it to help launch a new service or product? The target audience for the campaign should be defined. Are there sectors who do not use the service or product, or are there those who subscribe in larger quantities? Identify the profile of your best customers and you will identify the profile of your best prospects. Assign a budget for the campaign.

2. Decide who is to run the campaign

Appoint an agency to run the campaign. This may be your own marketing department if you have one which is large enough, or a special team drawn from your organisation. Consider contracting the work out to a consultant if you feel you lack the necessary expertise internally. This may prove to be expensive, but a badly run campaign can be ineffective and could also damage an organisation's reputation.

3. Prepare or obtain a mailing list

Evaluate the usefulness of the information on in-house databases. If there are limitations suggest improvements, or if an in-house database doesn't exist, consider the benefits and costs of starting one.

It will be much cheaper to purchase a mailing list from a specialist company. Make sure you check the company's reputation for producing lists. The addressee information must be up-to-date and accurate. Nobody likes receiving mail with their name misspelt or seeing the addressee as someone who moved 4 years ago, or two copies addressed to slightly different people. It is also a waste of money sending mail to someone for whom the product or service is totally irrelevant.

4. Design the mailing

Check out in-house capability of designing advertising material. Be creative when designing the mailing (including the envelope) to attract and hold the attention of the addressee. Make it look as personal as possible--many people bin computer-addressed envelopes on sight. Ensure that the design matches the type of target; for example, the style appropriate for teenagers will differ from that appropriate to senior managers. Consider contracting out the design stage to an appropriate agency if your organization lacks expertise. Remember: it is more effective to mail a smaller number of professional looking documents that have incurred the additional expense of a design agency than a large number of cheaper, poorly designed in-house ones.

5. Build in the trust factor

If you are looking for a direct return from the recipient, such as the disclosure of personal information, offer a meaningful incentive for the recipient to meet your requirements. Most people will want to know that personal information will not be put to misuse, or sold on. Make yourself aware of the main points of Data Protection legislation (see Internet resources at end).

6. Get the right incentive

Where the addressee needs to get back in touch, offer a stimulus for an early response, possibly a discount or free gift. The longer a person leaves mail unanswered the less likely they are to bother. In cases which need a mailed response, enclose a postage-paid envelope and don't ask for too much information; minimise the time and complexity involved to complete the form. Avoid telling people they have been specially chosen for a gift, or that they might be one of a lucky sample to receive a gift--consumers are wise to this by now, having never ever had a gift, or if they have it is one that is binned.

It is often useful to produce two or three different designs to use in the testing stage. Check that everything will remain within the budget when reproduced on its full scale.

7. Test the mailing

If you are to do as much as possible to avoid the 'Return to Sender Syndrome', send out a copy of the mailing to a sample from the list (making sure your sample is large enough to yield valid results--the more you want to break it down into categories, the larger it needs to be). If more than one design of mailing was produced these should be tested. Evaluate the results by checking the time taken to reply, the information obtained, and subsequently the number of sales. Look for any sectors that have not replied, for example the younger age range.

8. Make modifications and produce the package

Make any necessary changes (which are identified from any confusion or doubts arising from the test) to the mailing and package. Have the final copy of the package printed to the numbers required.

9. Prepare for response

Plan for a maximum response. This may mean taking on additional staff temporarily or ordering greater levels of stock. You must be prepared to meet customers orders. Staff must be aware of the pending campaign and the possibility of a large response over a short period of time. Prepare to monitor increases in telephone calls, orders, or service usage. If using e-mail and your audience, content and style of approach have not been carefully selected, be prepared to have your PC jammed by return messages!

10. Send out the mailing

Depending on the size of the mailing it can make sense to outsource envelope-stuffing to an external agency. The size and importance of the mailing and the capability of existing resources and budgets will determine whether you need to take on temporary staff or not.

11. Evaluate the results

Look for the same pointers as in the test mailing and the capability of staff to cope with the increased workload. Check that the stimulus for early response worked. Compare the results of the campaign, for example numbers of extra sales, against the original objectives or targets. Overall, identify problem areas and ways that improvements could be made for next time. Make as much use as possible of the incoming data in order to improve your own customer databases and the profiles of order prospects.

How not to manage direct mail campaigns


* send out the mailing without testing it on a sample first

* throw too much information at the addressee

* use language/terminology that the addressee will not understand

* forget that a successful campaign will increase the workload

* forget that that people are often wary of or uninterested in unsolicited ("junk") mail--be it post, fax or email.

* use language/terminology that the addressee will not understand

* forget that that a suitable mailing list must be available and that these can be expensive to research in-house.

Additional resources


Copywriting in a week, Robert Ashton,

London: Hodder and Stoughton, Chartered Management Institute, 2003

Sharing the cost of success: collaborative marketing and consumer lead generation

London: Response Direct Publishing, 2003

Direct marketing: a step-by-step guide to effective planning and targeting, Roddy Mullin

London: Kogan Page, 2002

Email marketing: using email to reach your target audience and build customer relationships, Jim Sterne and Anthony Priore

New York NY: John Wiley, 2000

How to write sales letters that sell, Drayton Bird

London: Kogan Page, 1997

This is a selection of books available for loan to members from the Management Information Centre. More information at:

Related checklists

Preparing a marketing plan (020) Complying with the Data Protection Act (220)

Internet resources

Business Link: The website provides practical advice for businesses concerning data protection


Institute of Direct Marketing

1 Park Road, Teddington, Middlesex, TW11 0AR Tel: 020 8977 5705

Direct Marketing Association

DMA House, 70 Margaret Street, London W1W 8SS

Tel: 020 7291 3300
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Title Annotation:direct mail advertising
Publication:Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: Marketing Strategy
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2006
Previous Article:Producing a corporate mission.
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