DM News' Deliver: Avoid Direct Mail Disasters: Reaching Your Target Market

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It's imperative that you reach your target market when using direct mail, or it could mean disaster. Reaching your market involves both your list and your lettershop. The list ensures that you select the people most likely to respond to your offer, and the lettershop ensures that your offer gets to their mailboxes on time.


The List


There are four important aspects to your list: selecting the list, cleaning it, seeding it and updating it.


Select your list. Research your target audience carefully. You may want to consider: gender, income, age, spending habits, purchasing history and ZIP code. After all, you don't want to mail your Medicare supplement campaign to people in their 20s.


Once you determine your target market, you will save time and cost by choosing a reliable source to provide you with a list, assuming you are not using an in-house database. When buying a list, ensure it is recent so that you don't waste money because of inaccurate, outdated information.


Clean your list. To clean your list and narrow it to your desired mail volume, have the data division of your lettershop complete these tasks:


· Perform a merge/purge if you are using multiple lists to eliminate unnecessary and costly duplication of names.


· Use suppressions, gender coding, de-dupes and nth selects.


· Ensure your list is cleaned against the National Change of Address file.


Seed your list. Seeding means adding mail recipients who will inform you of the delivery and quality of your mailing. Seeds are an important quality control measure, letting you verify timing, accuracy and production quality. Though it may raise your costs, it's a better quality control if you seed your list before you submit your data to your lettershop, thereby ensuring your seeds are part of the actual production run.


Update your list. Do this after each mailing. Determine where leads and sales originate and remove obsolete data to avoid waste in future mailings. Save on postage by de-duping each lead fulfillment drop if you have an ongoing lead generation campaign. By updating your database on a timely basis, you can control drop, batch and interim NCOA costs.


The Lettershop


Before you select your lettershop, understand how they differ in the volume and capacity they can handle and in the capabilities and specialties they offer.


· Size: Smaller shops are excellent at paying attention to detail but may be challenged to put a million-piece run into the mail if you need a short turnaround time. A bigger shop can put large volumes into the mail easily but may be unable to give smaller, more targeted jobs the attention they need.


· Programming: When selecting your lettershop, ensure it has sufficient programming and fulfillment expertise to handle the necessary phases of fulfillment, especially in cases of lead generation campaigns and direct response television fulfillment.


Once you choose a lettershop, you must stay involved with your mailing. Give the lettershop complete written specifications, providing your required mail dates, all sorting and postal instructions, your insertion order, seed names (if not supplied by an outside vendor), any sample requirements and specific quality control instructions. You also should supply a mockup of the package before production.


Always review and approve data layout before data application and production. When personalizing your direct mail pieces, assign logical key codes for error-free personalization and better back-end response analysis.


Selecting your list and lettershop carefully lets you reach your target market in a timely and cost-efficient manner, sending you on your way to a successful direct marketing campaign. But you also need to pay careful attention to the physical production of your package. Ensure that your mail pieces are printed on time and at cost with zero mistakes. You must consider paper stock, printing formats, postal regulations and inventory controls. Failure to accurately address any of these steps could spell disaster regardless of your diligence in data management, list selection, message, offer and call to action.


Choosing the Stock


The first step in print production is choosing the stock for your mail package. Bear the following facts in mind:


· Uncoated stock is the best choice for mechanical feeds and envelope sealing and is less expensive than coated stock.


· Coated stock increases your production time and costs but may enhance your creative package.


· If you are using laser printers, choose a laser-compatible stock between 60 pounds and 70 pounds.


· If your package design has to be cut and/or folded, use 60-pound or higher stock.


Test all coated stock before production to verify that the ink adheres to the stock. All good lettershops will give you ample time to pretest your stock before ordering it from the printer.


Selecting the Format


In addition to choosing your stock, you need to consider what format to use when printing your package:


· Sheet-fed printing is more efficient for small runs and requires less setup time. It incurs less waste, less time in bindery, is more versatile and generally produces the best print quality.


· Continuous-form printing can be cost efficient for large runs. They often can be produced three to five times faster than sheet-fed runs. However, such printers are typically higher in time and cost in the bindery. You also can expect more stock waste because of setups and signoffs. Nevertheless, continuous-form printing can save you up to 70 percent overall versus sheet-fed runs.


Preparing to Post


Once your package is designed, it is important to clear it with the U.S. Postal Service where the package will be mailed. The USPS can tell you whether your package meets the required postal standards and rates, helping you avoid unanticipated postage costs.


Ordering the Inventory


Be aware that direct mail production, like any type of production, requires a certain amount of lead time to produce your mail pieces. Most things simply cannot be done overnight. The more complex a package is and the larger the volume requested, the greater the time required for production.


Order your direct mail components as early as possible. Discuss with your print vendor how much time it will need to produce each piece of a mail package. Then, get the information to the vendor by the date they need it. You may find that certain components take longer to produce than others. Rushed production jeopardizes quality control and your planned mail date.


Have component codes assigned to each printed piece. Component codes will act as an easy reference device and help you avoid costly confusion if your package has version changes over time.


If you have ongoing fulfillment and lead generation projects, request a monthly report (at least) to ensure that proper stock levels are maintained at all times. Running out of stock can cause lost sales and missed mail dates.


Completing the Campaign


Post-production is an important part of any direct mail campaign. After your campaign is mailed, confirm the mail date, amount of drops, etc., via original postal receipts such as a 3600, 3602 or a 3606 form. It also is suggested that you obtain and maintain at least the minimum of quality control pulls for your records.


Finally, review every aspect of your direct mail campaign from start to finish while it is still fresh in your mind. Document what went well and what didn't - and how it will be improved for future mailings.


So how do you build a targeted direct mail campaign? To reiterate, start with careful planning in three areas: establish your list, count the costs and then follow through after your mailing.


Establish your list. Research your target audience carefully and then decide how you are going to reach them. Are you going to use an in-house client list? Purchase a list? Use the results from a previous lead generator? And what parameters are you going to set for that list to ensure you reach the right target with the right message?


Once you establish your target audience, consider the overall program, taking into account items such as the volume you will be mailing, any time constraints you are working under and how many mail drops will prove most effective for your mailing budget.


Count the costs. Costs are always a driving factor in a direct mail campaign. Often the single largest expense is postage. Therefore, it is vital that at the outset you understand the cost values for each mail option. Here's a summary of the pros and cons of each mail delivery option:


And remember, when it comes to mail, size does matter, and not everything can mail Standard. Weight, shape and size affect overall postage costs. Size and shape also may affect your production costs.


Follow through. The time to plan what will happen after your mail drop is before you have designed the mail package. Right at the start, determine your fulfillment timeframe: once, daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly. Leave sufficient processing time between mail drops.


A full-service lettershop can help you plan how each lead will be processed and how the data you receive will be maintained. Your lettershop's data division should provide you with daily batch counts and back-end analysis reports to help you understand your response results. By analyzing and using this information, you can improve any follow-up and future mail campaigns.


These three points - establishing your list, managing the cost and planning your follow through - are the foundation of your direct mail campaign. Without them, every decision you make is on shaky ground. With them, you can build your direct mail campaign with confidence and success.


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