Small Business Development Center

How to Stand Out with Direct Mail

How to Stand Out with Direct Mail

Should you be using direct mail to promote your business?

Like many perplexing business questions we get here at the SBDC the answer depends.

Purely from a numbers standpoint, many marketers automatically dismiss direct mail because they think it is 'too expensive' or that response rates will be too low to be worth the trouble. But I like to ask, 'compared to what?'

I often will remind clients that any advertising medium that has worked in the past can still work today...if done correctly. And that certainly applies to direct mail.

So, why then are some direct-mail marketing campaigns wildly successful, while others fail?

Hark unto me grasshopper..

The first problem with direct mail is you are usually sending to the wrong people (the list).

The second problem is often that what you are sending is the wrong message (the offer).

And the third problem is that the way you send direct mail greatly influences its effectiveness (the format).

With this post, I want to show you some creative ways to use the format of 'lumpy mail' to stand out in the mail box and get your message noticed.

Since the Fall Classic (a.k.a - the World Series) is right around the corner, I'd like to share a blast from my past and highlight a promotion that I worked on for the Washington Nationals baseball team.

Prior to joining the SBDC in March of 2008, I was working with a large direct mail company that was selected by the Washington Nationals to help sell luxury suites and season tickets in their new stadium Nationals Park. (see images below)

dimensional maildimensional mail - box contents

I wish I could tell you that this campaign was a home run, unfortunately it was not.

We struck out. (end of puns)

Now I would like to explain what I think went wrong by addressing the three problem areas above.

Problem #1 - The List
The Nationals worked with one of their banking partners to generate the list of 'suspects'. The bank simply pulled a list of their highest net worth clients (only 100 in total) who were to receive this promotion. Why only 100? Because this promotion cost $38 per box mailed when all was said and done and the National's marketing department was treating this as a test. While high net worth individuals might have been 'able' to spend the kind of money being asked for here, any number of additional list selection criteria could have improved the odds of success of this campaign. Had it been mine to do, I would have recommended finding high net worth individuals who also own large businesses who just might want to entertain clients at ball games. Or find those who are proven baseball fans, as evidenced by their past purchasing of other baseball related merchandise, subscriptions to baseball related content, etc.

Problem #2 - The Offer
In this case, on the one hand the offer was pretty clear. We have box seats and season ticket packages to sell - want some? However, there was no specific CTA (call to action) that was directly linked to this promotion. In short, if a recipient received this box AND responded by calling the sales office there was no internal tracking system to tie the 'sale' to the mailing program. Nor was there any specific landing page or unique URL for each recipient - remember, this was from 2007 and while the technology existed back then it was not as embraced by marketing departments and CMO's quite as readily as it is today.

Problem #3 -The Format
Personally, I think the creative teams involved with this promotion nailed this element. What you can't tell from the pictures here is all that went into this box and its delivery. First, these boxes were sent via FedEx directly to the addressee for maximum impact and tracking. Second, when the box was opened there was a light activated sound card that played an audio clip of the Nationals' play-by-play guy calling their star player hitting a home run from the prior season and then a bit of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game". And lastly you had a memorable leave behind item in the form of the real MLB baseball as a keepsake.

The Final Score 
$3,800 spent on a marketing test to 100 individuals. Zero known 'cash with order' customers generated from campaign. Not even a Clio award nomination!

Now, most small businesses won't be mailing packages that cost $38 per piece in the mail, delivered.

Fortunately, there are tons of low-cost options out there when it comes to getting creative with direct mail promotions.

Here are just a few ideas to get your entrepreneurial, revenue generating glands pumping.

fancy fortune cookiesFancy Fortune Cookies - Who doesn't open a fortune cookie? I met the founder of this company years ago at a marketing seminar, great company and even tastier cookies. Hey, if they are good enough for Oprah...and a President of the United States they are probably good enough for you.





send a ballSend a Ball - A sister from another mother, what? The founder of this company and I share a lot in common in terms of our direct mail backgrounds. I found her company back in the day, before they appeared on Shark Tank.




mail a coconutCoconuts - A great way to promote a tropical destination, or just plain fun!






From flip flops, to mini trash cans, to pill bottles... you'd be surprised at all the different things that you can deliver your marketing messages on, or in, through the USPS.

Authored by: Eric Grimstead