Looking for a better way to connect with customers and prospects in this technology-rich, multi-channel environment? Would you think I’m crazy if I suggest using a channel that was developed in the early 20th century?

That channel is direct mail. And while many of today’s marketers may dismiss it as a quaint relic of yesteryear, it’s actually more powerful than ever. Surprised? If you understand the factors behind the effectiveness of direct mail, you won’t.

There are two reasons why direct mail is a wise choice in today’s market. First of all, fewer companies are using it, so the few that know how to employ it effectively have a much better chance of getting noticed. Three decades ago, your mailbox may have been full of letters on any given day, but how many do you get now? Finding a letter (especially one with a royal seal) is a novelty these days, so instead of just tossing it aside, people are more likely to read it.

“Well, I don’t read spam,” you insist. Neither do I. But effective direct mail and junk mail are two completely different animals, and that’s where reason number two comes into the picture. The key to effective direct mail is making sure you’re putting the right message in the right hands, and today’s combination of powerful technology and big data makes it easier than ever to do so.

Spam is what you don’t want. You’re not interested in doing business with the sender, or it’s a product you’d never buy, so you throw it in the recycle bin. If you are sending the wrong messages to people who have no need or interest, you are wasting your money on spam.

But if you’re sending relevant messages and offers to a very specific group of recipients who meet specific criteria, you’re participating in effective direct mail. You have the opportunity to “talk” directly to someone who is likely to be interested in what you have to say or offer. Even better, you’re doing it in a place where they feel comfortable at a time when they feel comfortable. Many forms of marketing communications are disruptive. For example, phone calls always come when you’re doing something else. But most people have some sort of routine when it comes to reading their mail.

Now, about that strictly specific group I mentioned. I’ve written many effective direct mail packages over the years, but I’ll be the first to admit that my glowing words aren’t the main reason those efforts succeeded. Direct mail experts will tell you that the writing and design of a direct mail piece or package accounts for less than 10 percent of its effectiveness. How do they know that? They have tested millions of pieces of mail over the years, making slight modifications to identify what works best.

Those experts will also tell you that your offer accounts for about 20 percent of the success of a direct mail effort. So what is the factor behind the remaining 70 percent? It is the quality of the list.

In other words, you can develop the most beautiful direct mail package with the most poetic wording that promotes a truly irresistible offer, and if you send it to a poor quality list, you will fail. The list is the most important element.

A good list is completely focused on one type of recipient. The more clearly you can define your target audience and come up with a list of those targets, the more effective you will be. The list must also be accurate, and it is important to make sure that your provider or whoever produces the letter combines the correct fields. Otherwise, you could be embarrassed.

The other element that is important in effective direct mail is making sure your message is personal. Even if you’re sending your marketing message to 100,000 people, one reads it at a time. You want each recipient to feel like they’re having a conversation with someone in your company, not like they’re being advertised. Copy that is friendly and conversational will go a long way toward achieving this.

Direct mail may actually be an old technique, but that doesn’t mean it’s outdated or ineffective. Use today’s tools to refine and empower it, and old standbys can be the source of your newfound success!

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