By Barbara Pellow December 14, 2005 -- If you're looking for the best vehicle to target a large audience and gather data, nothing beats direct mail. Just combine the right data with the right message and creative and you've got an efficient, self-contained, heat-seeking marketing missile capable of hitting your target and providing a substantial return on investment. As a print service provider, does your organization need to do any of the following? attract new customers? generate leads for your sales force? generate traffic at your trade show booth? drive buyers to your website? strengthen relationships with your existing customers? secure sales appointments with qualified prospects? nurture relationships with long-term prospects? introduce new products and services to your customers? invite clients to your event? persuade prospects to invite you onsite to conduct a needs analysis? survey your clients? announce a sale or special offer? win back inactive customers? This is the value proposition that you are selling to your clients--that direct mail is the best way to address immediate business challenges, and move your bottom line in the right direction. But direct marketing is effective only if it's done right. It's certainly not as simple as typing a letter, adding an address and stamp, and popping it in the mail. You tell your customers to leverage direct mail, yet how effectively are you using this technique? You tell your customers to leverage direct mail to do a better job at reach and return--and yet how effectively are you using this technique to reach your customers with a solid message that causes the customer to take action? Are you walking the talk? A Good Direct Mail Campaign Effective direct mail requires three key components: the right person, the right promotion/message/call to action and strong, high quality creative--in that order Mailing to Mr./Ms. Right “Garbage-in garbage-out" is a famous old commentary on what happens when you don't enter appropriate or accurate data into computers. When it comes to bad customer data and direct mail marketing, the ramifications go way beyond not getting the right--the lack of quality customer data is one of the biggest issues relative to low response on direct mail campaigns. No matter how good a mailing program you've put together, it just won't work unless you're talking to someone who actually cares about what you've got to say--and that's generally someone with a need you have the capability to meet. Lack of quality customer data is one of the biggest issues relative to low response on direct mail campaigns. With the right database, direct marketing can deliver incremental improvements in customer retention rates, response rates, referrals, cross sales, frequency of sales, and average order sizes. It builds relationships with customers that bind them to your company and your brand. Done right, database marketing makes customers happy and helps them identify with you, your products, your company, and your employees. It helps prevent defection. Tighten your mailing list as much as possible to be sure it's tailored to your needs. It's tough to make people believe they need your product and even harder to convince them they need it now. But if you've researched your list, you have a higher chance of having your direct mail piece hit potential customers instead of the trash can. Zeroing in on the right person at the right time is the single most important factor in any successful direct marketing effort. The Right Message/Promotion/Call to Action When you deliver your direct mail, the message, promotion and call to action need to be loud and clear. The message and call to action is the one area of a marketing effort that will reap big returns, or wreak major havoc, on ROI. I have seen fantastic marketing campaigns for similar companies that were close to greatness but missed the mark with poor messaging or an ineffective call to action. Direct marketing firms have tested multiple call-to-action statements in similar executions and have been totally surprised by a 20 to 30 percent variance in results. The message and call to action is the one area of a marketing effort that will reap big returns, or wreak major havoc, on ROI. Spend a lot of time on your headline. Just remember how you feel when reading mail that comes to you. After you read that headline, do you keep reading? The headline can make or break your direct mail campaign. Does price really matter? Not unless you know what you're getting for that price. Hook your reader with all of the product benefits. By the time they get to the end, they should be saying, "I can't live without your fulfillment, web-to-print or distribution services!" Success! Your potential customer read all the way through your mailing. Now what? Even after all that, you can't assume the reader will do what you want him/her to do, right now. But that's what he/she must do. So spell it out. Does he detach and complete a reply card, call a toll free number, complete a questionnaire, check a box? Punch out a token? What? Is there a postpaid or self-addressed reply envelope to use? Ask him/her to do all that right now because that expiration date will be here before he/she knows it. Because he really wants to try this, but if he lets it go till "later," he'll forget. The P.S. Punctuate the call to action with the signature, and then add a P.S. After the headline and first sentence, the P.S. commands the highest readership. Use that important space to repeat a key benefit, or add a twist or another idea to something you've already said. Also repeat your call to action here, in slightly different words. Coming tomorrow: In Part 2 of "Taking Aim with Direct Mail," find out how Looks Can Kill with examples from Padgett Printing, TanyaSeybert and Corporate Press.