The quarterly direct mail primer reminder

Every few months, I start seeing a sudden increase in the number of questions I get pertaining to direct mail. The fundamentals of direct mail tend to get lost in the overall tax practice marketing conversation these days, since that conversation is dominated by social media and mobile.

The fact of the matter is that direct mail remains one of the most successful methods for marketing a professional practice in any industry these days. Direct mail should be one of your top three or four “go to” methods for new lead generation, prospect follow up, and client retention. It ranks right up there with the telephone, Internet, and word of mouth as a primary marketing communication medium.

While there are many lengthier articles on this blog regarding this subject, I figured that some readers could use a quick primer on the subject. I actually posted the following seven points back in January, but they continue to remain relevant, and even I need the occasional bop on the head on this subject to remind me to use it more.

Direct Mail Primer
I consider the following seven elements to be the most salient points to always remember about direct mail:

  1. The purpose of a lead generation direct mail piece is to generate a response for additional follow up marketing — not to sell your services in the letter.
  2. Following up with phone calls the day of or the day after your prospect should have received your direct mail piece is pivotal to seeing drastically higher response rates.
  3. Letters with handwritten addresses are opened about 3x more often than printed labels. Real stamps drastically increase letter open rates, also.
  4. A compelling headline in your letter is the single greatest key to response AFTER getting them to open it. It is worth researching the internet for “direct marketing headline banks” to get examples of successful headlines from other people, and modify them to your needs.
  5. If you hit a 2% response rate from a direct mail campaign, you’ve hit a grand slam. Anything over one half of one percent is still good, especially in any business with a large transaction size (such as tax resolution).
  6. Sending a one-time mailer is usually a waste of money. Direct mail works best with “multi-hit” campaigns. E.g., send a first letter, then a couple weeks later send another one to people that didn’t respond. Response rates are additive, and in most cases, the longer the mailing sequence, the better. Side note: Make sure you’re sending the right sequence to the right mailing list (“market to message match”).
  7. Make a limited time offer in your letter. Offer them a report, a book, a seminar, something of value — and always assign a deadline.

Put these seven very brief tips into practice in your direct mail, and you’ll begin seeing substantially better results for your marketing dollars.

Comments on The quarterly direct mail primer reminder

  1. Linda Howard says:

    This is the first I’ve heard about ‘headline banks.’ Great information. My issue with direct mail is getting the piece in the hand of the recipient. For my last campaign, 50% of the people I called said they never received any of the 6 postcards I sent. This tells me the mail is being screened before it even gets to the prospect’s desk. How do I overcome this barrier?

  2. Jassen says:


    A while back I wrote another post about headline banks you might get something out of: Tax Marketing Headline Bank.

    As for mail screening, yes, it’s an issue. It’s been an issue since the day the first direct mail marketing piece was ever sent. It’s also an issue with telemarketing. Mail will always be screened by the employee or household member whose responsibility it is to get the mail — it’s inevitable.

    Is it possible to entirely eliminate mail screening? No, not a chance. Can you reduce it? Of course. The level of direct mail screening goes down as the cost to send it goes up.

    Whenever I’ve sent marketing materials via FedEx, it’s almost guaranteed to get through the screener to the recipient. I said “almost”. Yes, even sending things in a FedEx box does not guarantee your intended recipient will ever actually see it. But it’s going to be 98% or so. Of course, you’re also paying a pretty penny for that open rate.

    Sending it USPS Priority Mail will increase open and read rates. Sending it in specialty envelopes that look “official”, but can still be sent first class, will increase read rates. Using greeting card or stationary size and color envelopes will increase read rates. Using a handwritten address and a real stamp will increase read rates.

    The reason you’re seeing such a high screening rate on postcards is because postcards don’t need to be opened: Your marketing message is right on the postcard for the screener to read, so they can trash it if they don’t think the intended recipient wants to see it. Postcards are the easiest thing to screen, and thus have the highest screening rate.

    Postcards are still my favorite way to do mass market direct mail, however. Why? Because it’s so cheap to do multi-hit sequential mailings with them. It’s a matter of shear numbers: The more folks I can reach out to with my budget, the more prospects I have to work with.

    It all depends on your marketing objective. If you’re mass marketing tax resolution to everybody and anybody with a tax lien, for example, then send the cheapest 3 to 8 postcard sequences or 3-step letter sequences you can, to everybody within your budget. If, on the other hand, you’re ONLY after a very specific client profile, then you step things up and use more expensive mailers. Same marketing budget, different objective. You don’t send a postcard sequence when you’re trying to get a very, very specific type of high-fee client.

    I hope this helps!

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