Direct Mail Advertising Strategies for Small Businesses

When I recommend direct mail advertising for my clients, the most common reaction is it doesn’t work in their business, an opinion just a few minutes’ questioning reveals is based on nothing more than their bad experiences, and while this is thus understandable, it’s actually severely limiting their sales and profits, and needlessly so.

The truth is direct mail advertising or direct mail marketing does work. And it works very well for businesses large and small, local, national, international and global.

When a client tells me direct mail advertising doesn’t work, what they are actually saying is “I tried it, and it didn’t work for me on that occasion“.

There are a few problems with this as a general indicator for your business.


Direct mail advertising is not a one-shot thing

There’s a saying in direct marketing that goes something like this:

The more you tell, the more you sell

I don’t know who first said this, but it’s dead right

To a copywriter this is merely to reinforce the idea the more you write, and the more detail you go into, the better your direct mail advertising pieces are going to convert.

It’s not always true, but it usually is. A case in point was the best sales letter I ever wrote, which converted at over 16%, but was only 360 words long. That said, this was still an example of the “more you tell” rule in action, as I’ll share with you in a moment.

But sticking with copywriting for a minute, the chances are if you’ve ever tested direct mail advertising, whether as a letter or a postcard, you’ve kept it very sparse in terms of words and gone very, very heavy on the graphics and whitespace. You’ve probably done the same with any print ads you’ve run in the press, too.

Furthermore, you’ve probably done it this way because you left the design of the thing in the hands of printers, graphic designers and advertising reps.

direct mail advertising image

Direct mail advertising should be personal, and from one individual to another, just like a friendly letter

Well, I’m about to save you a fortune (and perhaps make you one, too), IF you follow my advice: don’t let printers, graphic designers and advertising reps design any of your direct mail advertising and websites unless they have a proven record of success in direct response marketing. The same goes for website designers, too, incidentally (most of them are just graphic designers with an extra string to their bow).

I’m not knocking these fellows, because they all do an important and valuable job. BUT by letting them loose on your marketing design, you are asking them to do a job they are simply not qualified to do.

You don’t have to take my word for this — there are countless documented studies showing how ads and other marketing pieces should be laid out and written for best results — and the “aesthetic way” ain’t it.

Creating advertising mail is a specialist’s job, and these fellows are not usually specialists. Effective direct mail design is a science as well as an art.

So long, conversational copy rules, regardless of your graphic designers’ protestations of “people won’t read that much text“. They will read it — as long as it’s not boring.

And how to stop your direct mail advertising being boring is something we’ll go into at a later date.

OK, so let’s look at the second way the “more you tell the more you sell” thing works, and why my 360-word sales letter was so damned effective.

Direct mail advertising success is all in the follow-up

Most business owners don’t follow up. And the few who do, well most of those make two mistakes: first, they don’t do it often enough; and secondly, they do it the wrong way.

And the thing with this sales letter was… the list was well primed to receive it. By the time the sales letter was up and they could buy the thing, they already wanted it.

So, how often is often enough?

It depends. At least weekly, but probably twice-weekly as a minimum. I email my future and existing clients every single working day. I also send my fair share of direct mail advertising, too, although I reserve most of it for my Inner Circle.

My wife, Sarah, emails her list 7 days a week virtually every week. And she consistently and reliably makes sales.

Does everyone like it?

No, of course not. She gets her fair-share of Moaning Minnies and complaints, as do I. But so what?

We don’t care about tyre-kickers and looky-loos, and people who think we’re running charities rather than businesses.

Now, most people will balk at this and say it’s too often, it’ll piss too many people off. Perhaps.

But in my long experience, I’ve met only ONE person who began emailing daily and did NOT immediately start making more sales. And by “more sales” I mean a doubling of your sales is not unusual.

Yes, some people won’t like it. Some will unsubscribe; and some will even go to the trouble of complaining to you. Moreover, if you write engaging, interesting and conversational emails as I do (and as you should) you’re going to get some people complain about the content, too.

My advice?

Ignore them… except for using some of the more amusing complaints as fodder for more emails, letters and postcards.

Now, there’s an obvious challenge to what I’m saying here: I’ve spent the last few minutes talking about email, yet I began by talking about direct mail advertising.

But, the principle holds the same. The exact method you choose to follow up is not the point. I do my fair share of direct mail advertising, but I restrict it to my best clients at the moment, simply because of ROI (your direct mail advertising lives and dies by its ROI, the direct mail response rates and the other important direct mail statistics you measure for it)

The point is… direct mail advertising works. And that, by definition, means it makes you money.

What’s more, you’ll often find direct mail works better, because the dynamic of reading it is different — and that obviously goes a long way to offsetting the extra time, trouble and investment required to send a direct mail advertising piece.

The Big Secret to direct mail advertising

Is… to make it look personal. Direct mail advertising that looks like direct mail advertising doesn’t get read, and doesn’t get responded to.

This means it’s got to be in a personal-looking envelope with a handwritten address (or at least printed in a realistic handwriting font), and you need to be using a real stamp, not some bulk franking monstrosity.

Anything putting out the message “junk mail” will get the kneejerk “in the trash” response.

Another big secret of direct mail advertising is…


The thing with advertising of any kind is you never know what’s going to work. All you can do is try something and measure results. And if it hadn’t worked (meaning it hasn’t brought you any business), then you know to do it a different way next time. This is not failure – it’s feedback.

The trouble with most business owners is they have a go and if it doesn’t work  immediately, they give up.

Clue: profitable direct mail advertising campaigns don’t spring into being fully formed. They are usually the result of many “failures” before them. Remember, Guru Bob and his cronies show you only their finest successes when they’re trying to sell you something.

Bottom line: direct mail advertising works, end of story.

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