This comment is one I have heard repeatedly for years, almost as much as the 2% response B.S.! When I hear it, my own response is always “Aaargh!”

I am sure there are valid cases where using Direct Mail didn’t work for some businesses or in some circumstances. However, most of these proclamations — if not all — are the result of improper planning, lack of knowledge or just plain carelessness.

Direct Mail doesn't work

In my personal experience over many, many moons and several hundred campaigns, I can count the “failures” on one hand. And all but one of those can be explained by faults in the planning or execution.

(I’ll cover the one failure of ours that I still can’t explain . . . and that has bugged me for years. Look for that story in a blog post!)

The most common ways to get approximately 0% response.

1.  “Creating” the message before completing the strategic planning. The first step in planning any direct marketing campaign (which includes direct mail) is to run the numbers. Use the calculator to ascertain the Allowable Cost per Response. And you can’t really determine this until you know the Lifetime Customer  Value (LTCV) of the average customer, patient or client! This applies to virtually all direct marketing campaigns — mail, print, TV, internet, telephone or combination thereof. Skip this step, and yes, you too will join those who say they tried direct mail, but it didn’t work!

2.  Using a poor list.  The wrong list guarantees a direct mail campaign that doesn’t work. The list is the single most important component of any direct mail (or eMail) campaign. You customer list should be usually 2-3 times more responsive than a non-customer list! (The Direct Marketing Association’s 2018 Response Rate Report cites response rates for house lists as nearly 9%.) If you’re renting lists, don’t cut corners. If you’re new to direct mail, one rule of thumb: Avoid list bargains.

3.   Focusing on the cost per unit of Direct Mail.  This distorts the process.  If you compare the cost of a Direct Mailing to an eMail campaign, the physical mail will always appear to be expensive. This is really related to the first point. If you do your planning correctly, you will find it difficult to avoid the reality that you don’t really care about your mailing costs. You are ONLY concerned about the percentage and quality of response. It’s not likely that you will get a 20, 30 or 40% response from either an eMail campaign or a postcard mailing.

Consider the value of your product.

If your product or service only returns a lifetime profit of two or three hundred dollars, you aren’t likely to justify a three-dimensional mailing unit costing $7-10 per piece of mail. That would require a LTCV of more like $100,000-$200,000 — or more.  

We’re back to the temptation to create the message and the medium before doing the math. Do that, and once again, you’ll be one of those disappointed marketers saying, “Direct mail didn’t work.”

Making sense? Take a look at another of my favorite articles, “Direct Mail Only Gets 2% Response”.

Note: If you’re using eMail to promote your product or service and you’re tapping into someone else’s customer list, there are a many considerations that are different from the planning for direct mail. Number one would be privacy. Number two would be “cleanliness” of the list. Number three would be the risk of being labeled a scammer. More on this later!