Top 10 Hi-Tech Direct Mail Mistakes

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Time for a campaign checkup? If your direct mail isn't performing as you hoped, perhaps you've fallen prey to these all-too-common pitfalls.


You forgot the offer. No matter how enticing your product sounds, you won't generate leads unless people want what you're offering to send them. Don't rattle on about how wonderful your technology is and follow it with, "For more information, call us at ... ." What is it you're offering to send? Be specific. Then sell the benefits of your product in the context of the offer: "In this free white paper, you'll learn how to ... ."


Your offer is weak. Offering to send the reader a product brochure -- in other words, information telling them how great your product is -- will only attract that small subset of prospects who have already identified their problem and already are shopping for a solution. Instead, offer information of value -- a white paper, technology guide, CD-ROM -- that simply shows them how to solve that problem. You'll generate a much larger response, and every person who responds will at least have the problem that your product can help solve.


You didn't show the offer. You've heard it before: A picture is worth a thousand words. Spending $500 to photograph the white paper, brochure and CD-ROM makes the offer more tangible and more "real." If the reader can see the "free stuff" at a glance, he or she is more likely to respond.


You used the list because it was free. If your first criterion for choosing a list is "How much does it cost?" you need to reset your priorities. Though the cost probably is only 10 percent of your total program budget, the right list is the No. 1 ingredient in a successful campaign. Just because your sales group already has the database in-house or the advertising rep is giving you 5,000 names for free, doesn't automatically make it a good choice. Free or not, choose the list that allows you to target your audience most effectively.


You aimed too high. The president or chief information officer may be the person who signs the check that buys your software, but that doesn't make him or her the ideal target for your direct mail. Remember this rule of thumb: Target the highest level at which the problem is understood. Mail to the person "feeling the pain" on a day-to-day basis. Besides being easier to reach, that person is much more likely to want the information you have to offer.


You wanted your mail to get noticed. Oh, it was noticed all right. Except the person who noticed it was the mail clerk. Or the vice-president's executive secretary. Your first challenge isn't getting noticed, it's getting the mail delivered to the person's desk. Especially when you're targeting management-level prospects at large companies, the less your package looks like junk mail, the better.


You highlighted features, not benefits. Sure, it's Marketing 101, but when you talk about a particular product all day, every day, it's easy to litter your direct mail with features without even thinking about it. Unfortunately, the rest of the population doesn't immediately recognize the benefit of say, ODBC compliance, even if you think they do. What does it mean to the average user? Will it save him or her time or money?


You used too many buzzwords. Again, one of the pitfalls of working in hi-tech marketing is that we talk about scalability, adaptability, flexibility, interactivity, extensibility and forget that the average user speaks a different language. Don't trash terms like these if they're important to positioning your product -- just explain how they translate in terms of basic benefits.


You buried the call to action. A direct mail campaign has one goal: getting someone to respond. Don't add the call to action as an afterthought ("For more information, call ...") Make "action-oriented" your theme -- make your copy revolve around asking the reader to do something. Mention the call to action early -- and often.


You relied too much on the Web. We all use the Web every day. Yes, it's fun, interactive, and all the information is right there at your fingertips. But as a call to action, simply sending people to your Web site misses the point. First, chances are they'll wander around, download a brochure, and you'll never hear from them again. Second, you want to make it easy as possible for them to respond.


Dialing up the Internet, typing in a URL and filling out an online form takes far more time than checking a box on a prepersonalized BRC. Play it safe. Give the reader every option possible -- telephone, mail, fax, Web and e-mail.


Howard J. Sewell is president of Connect Direct, Redwood City, CA, a full-service direct marketing agency that specializes in direct mail for hi-tech companies.

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