Ask the experts: Target specific customers with direct mail

Each day we are bombarded with advertising on social media, the car radio, magazines and television. But even when we tune those things out, ads still show up in the mail.

Paul Spinak, president and creative director of The Marketing Machine in Raleigh, says direct mail marketing can be effective because companies are delivering their message directly to the consumer. Companies know that that advertising will be touched and seen.

Direct mail typically makes sense for business-to-consumer companies – such as hair dressers, doctors and day care providers – that have ongoing relationships with customers. However, Spinak said it’s important to do the math before starting a campaign. For example, a coffee shop that sends out 10,000 mailers at $5,000 total cost should receive 200 responses, based on the industry standard of 2 percent. Each customer will most likely spend $4 for a cup of coffee, giving the shop a return of $800 – a significant loss.

The timing of direct mail is important, and Spinak recommends that companies focus on mailing during their busy seasons.

It is also essential to target mailings to the demographics of current customers by purchasing a list of leads based on criteria you select from a vendor, such as InfoUSA.

“If you are a restaurant, you will want to use geography as your criteria, but if you have a shop primarily geared to younger men, then you will want to use gender and age,” Spinak said.

To get a return on the mailing, it must have a strong call to action or offer.

“I tell clients to make the offer good enough that it makes them slightly uncomfortable,” Spinak said. “No one is going to get off the couch for 5 percent off. The bigger the percentage, the longer someone will hold onto the card even if they don’t spend it, which keeps your company on their mind.”

One of the biggest mistakes Spinak sees owners make is rushing through the design process to save expenses, and he recommends hiring a professional for the creative aspect of direct mailing.

Instead of cutting costs on design, Spinak tells customers to reduce expenses by sending to fewer customers.

“Scaling is one of the benefits of direct mailing, which you can’t do with other forms of advertising,” Spinak said. “You can mail 1,000 mailers out to gauge the response, and you will typically see the same percentage of response if you send to a larger audience in the future. ... You can find out what works and what doesn’t without spending a fortune.”

Jennifer Gregory is a business writer who lives in Wake Forest. Find her online at