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How Not to Succeed with a Direct Mail Campaign

Aug 17, 2007
There are two deadly words in marketing: "by committee".

As a professional marketer, I tend to avoid inviting the entire management team to comment on or participate in my advertising and communication planning.

There's a really good reason for this, and it's not that I'm trying keep the reins close for my own sake.

When planning anything, and particularly in marketing, it's a good idea to approach the effort with a concise idea of the goals you need to achieve and tools you plan to use.

The fact of the matter is, when you invite commentary into the development stage of any plan, you risk losing focus. This is most certainly true with direct mail.

By its very nature, direct mail requires attention to detail and focus on what results you want to achieve. Unfortunately, bring together a large group of managers and you get lots of different ideas of how to go about generating sales. You lose focus when you get bogged down in management meeting after management meeting.

How does that happen? That gets to the heart of why I dread the words "By Committee" in planning a direct mail campaign: committees are made up of people who have no idea (a) what direct mail is; (b) how direct mail works; or (c) what direct mail can and cannot do.

My business case is fairly straightforward: Why employ experts to create advertising and communication campaigns, utilizing long years of experience, then deprive yourself of that knowledge and experience base by letting personal opinions get in the way?

That's exactly what happens when you start to involve the entire management team in planning a direct mail campaign.

There are several really easy ways to ensure the decision-making process works, and that your direct mail campaign achieves your specific business objectives.

First off, remember: meddle can muddle. When you bring reviewers into the process, make sure they understand that their responsibility is to point out technical inaccuracies and other mistakes. An ad campaign's content, tone or style should be the purview of your marketing professional. That's what they're paid for, after all. So if you are seeking input from the management team, be explicit that their role is to "proof", not plan.

Second, fewer is better: Trim down the pre-analysis process and the number of people taking part. Without a doubt, key people such as the communications manager, the product manager and a technical expert play an important role and should always be included. But does HR need to be consulted when developing a sales letter?

Third, result, not opinion: Make a pledge to measure direct mail not by your preferences or by appearance, but by results. And then make sure you set up systems to measure those results. It's funny how often this is an issue; people think opinions about aesthetics should have a role in whether a direct mail is going to be successful. Opinion simply cannot compete with testing.

Finally, creative isn't important. Sales are: In any advertising campaign, the answer to "Which concept is best?" is the same as the answer to the question, "Which mailing piece pulled best?" Sometimes, even marketers forget this, but when you get right down to it, marketing has one purpose: to drive sales.

All things considered, direct mail is a powerful tool. It generates interest, it generates sales, and it increases overall awareness. But direct mail is not infallible.

It's important to keep in mind when planning your next direct mail campaign that while committees can have valuable insight, they do not necessarily have a place, and moreover, they can actually reduce the chance of success.
About the Author
Michael Lee-Smith has been a managment consultant for over a decade, and in that time he's applied real-world strategies for business success for dozens of companies. Learn more about how you can succeed in real estate at http://www.corneroffice.info/.
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