* Crazy Direct Mail Guy

How to use the Internet to launch your direct mail campaign.

By Erik J. Heels

First published 6/1/2006; Law Practice magazine, “nothing.but.net” column; publisher: American Bar Association

When I was heading up marketing and sales for Verio’s Boston office in 1997, one of our sales guys was having a hard time getting one of his Fortune 500 prospects to call him back. So he bought a telephone, programmed his phone number into the phone, and mailed it to his prospect. He got a call back – and the sale.

My marketing plan includes direct mail, email (newsletters), event marketing (e.g. seminars), print advertising, and web advertising (see my December 2005 nothing.but.net column). But in the age of the Internet, marketing programs such as direct mail are easier to launch, easier to manage, and more cost effective. Here’s how to get started with direct mail.

First, figure out your firm’s value proposition. What value do you bring to your prospective clients (your target audience)? How are you different from your competition? What is the value of that difference? Answer these questions and you’re well on your way to figuring out what you going to say, to whom, and how.

Second, develop or acquire a mailing list for your target audience. You should maintain a database of existing and prospective clients, and you should include them in your direct mail campaign. You’d be surprised how effective direct mail to your existing clients can be. If your clients operate in a particular industry, then consider contacting the magazines that cater to that industry and see if they will let you purchase their subscriber mailing lists. You can also ask your existing clients what mailing lists they use, if their target market is the same as yours, which it very well may be.

Third, you need to know what you want to communicate. Is your mailing designed to be informative only or is it designed to convey a particular offer? Of course you should also check your state’s bar’s ethics rules for what you can and cannot say in a direct mail piece.

Fourth, pick a format. Do you want to send a letter? A brochure? A large postcard? A small postcard? There are many options, some of which will cost more than others.

Fifth, pick a vendor. Here’s where it gets really fun and interesting. Once you have your mailing list created (for example as a CSV file) and your creative developed (for example as a PDF file), you can launch your direct mail campaign from the United States Postal Service (USPS) website. I have been using NetPost (http://www.usps.com/netpost/) from the USPS since 2001 and love it.

The USPS website includes pre-formatted templates that you can customize. You can also order samples of the 12 direct mail types that they offer to see which you like. A variety of file formats are supported, including Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) 5 or below, Adobe Postscript (PS), Microsoft Word (versions 6, 95, 97, or 2000), Encapsulated Postscript (EPS), BMP, GIF, JPEG, PCX, PNG, and TIF.

When I’m ready to launch a direct mail campaign, I login to the USPS NetPost website, upload my document, upload my mailing list, preview the document, set a mailing date for the campaign, and pay by credit card. It sure beats stuffing envelopes by hand. You can even send your holiday cards with NetPost. One of my favorite features is the ability to validate your mailing list. If your addresses validate, the USPS will give you discounted posted. If they do not, you have the option of including them in your mailing (possibly at extra postage) or not.

Other online direct mail vendors typically require you to pay separately for printing and for postage, and it is typically a multi-step multi-day process. With NetPost, I can launch a campaign in minutes and never have to worry about it again.

A cost calculator lets you manage your budget. For example, you can send 1000 two-sided black-and-white postcards for 302.70 (including postage), which is just over $0.30/piece. For 1000 full-color four-page booklets, your cost (including postage) would be $2,101.00, about $2.10/piece.

I have grown my law firm from one to 2.5 people in five years, and I can honestly say that it would not have been possible without the USPS NetPost service. Is NetPost perfect? Of course not. But it is good. And one of the rules that I live by is that a good solution today is better than a perfect solution tomorrow. There are other marketing programs that can be managed, improved, or supplemented by the web. But the Internet really makes direct mail a breeze.

At Verio, I did so much direct mail that I was known as the “crazy direct mail guy.” The truth is that we didn’t have a budget for anything else, so I didn’t have a lot of options. Each month, I try to make sure that I don’t get too much or too little of my business from any one marketing effort. For example, if I broke my leg tomorrow, then I couldn’t do event marketing. Or if the USPS raises postage rates dramatically, then direct mail may no longer be cost-effective. So I do a little bit of everything. A balanced marketing portfolio – like a balanced stock portfolio – is a good strategy for the long term. I have to force myself to have the discipline to maintain this balance. Otherwise instead of writing this column, I might be mailing you a phone!

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One Reply to “* Crazy Direct Mail Guy”

  1. Greetings,

    A lawyer emailed me today today, 03/19/10, about my 06/01/06 direct mail article:

    * Crazy Direct Mail Guy

    Since I launched my law firm in 03/2001, I ran a monthly direct mail campaign. Over the years, the ROI on the direct campaign steadily decreased (and cost-per-sale increased). Finally, in 2008, direct mail crossed the line from ROI positive to ROI negative. I ceased doing monthly direct mail in January 2009.

    Change is constant. Execute, measure, iterate. What worked last year may not work this year. In 2010, direct mail is waste of money.

    Every marketing channel has a beginning, middle, and end. Direct mail’s time has ended. Time to move on.


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