6 Things to Consider When Establishing a Direct Mail Campaign

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James E. Sullivan, Project Manager, Optic Nerve Direct Marketing
Here are six things you should consider when organizing a direct mail campaign:
1. Positioning
Define It: Before you can begin to put together a campaign, you must have a clear idea of what your style is and what type of work it best applies to. As part of this, you should consider the type of work that you actually want to do.
Stick To It: Once you’ve decided your style, you should keep to it for the next couple of years. Pigeonholing is actually a good thing. The more focused the visual message you communicate to a creative buyer, the more likely they are to remember it.
2. Target Audience
Decide Which Companies are Most Important: Most people can’t afford to mail to everyone, so you’ll likely have to decide, given your positioning, who are the greatest sources of business and go after them. Prioritize your sources of business in terms of who’s more likely to hire you.
Decide Which Contacts are Most Important: Not every contact within a company will have equal say in deciding who is hired. Choose which people are essential to reach and which are optional. See Prioritizing Your Target Audience for more on who is important.
Decide Where to Market Geographically: Based on the type of work you do, decide if it’s worth marketing outside your local area. For example: Will someone 3000 miles away hire you to shoot a product? Are you an illustrator for whom it doesn’t matter where your clients are?
Test Out New Markets: Use small mailings to test the response from markets in which you feel there is potential but with which you have little or no prior experience.
Keep On Top of Your Primary Market: Be aware of what’s going on. Know what type of work is popular and what’s not. Keep track of the key players, especially when they move around.
3. Frequency
Multiple Hits Maximize Awareness: Building awareness and perception for an artist is similar to developing brand recognition. The more times a potential “buyer” sees the product, the more likely they are to consider it when making a purchasing decision. You will generate more awareness by mailing 1000 people five times than by mailing 5000 people once.
Two Pieces Are Not Enough: Research into marketing practices has shown that advertising only becomes effective after the third hit. This is when awareness really starts to kick in. You should consider mailing at least four pieces over a period of six months. More is better.
Mailers Come in All Shapes and Sizes: Don’t limit yourself to only including “campaign mailers” in your direct mail program. Mail out source book overruns, pieces highlighting work you’ve done lately and recent awards to increase your frequency.
4. Budget
Achieve a Balance that Makes Sense: The need for frequency and reaching a given target audience with a quality promo is often at odds with your budget. Be careful when trading off one against the other. Be aware that in general, frequency is the most important, followed by the quality of your piece. The actual number of people you hit is secondary to these two objectives.

Quality Is Important: Quality not only helps catch the eye, it sends a message about your attitude towards your own work. More importantly, it indicates to the creative buyer what they can expect from the work you’ll do for them.
Focus Your Target Audience: Mailing to more people doesn’t necessarily get you that much more work. By identifying and only mailing to the core group of people within each of your target markets, you may be able to reduce the total number of pieces without cutting out too many opportunities.
Consider Other Avenues for Reducing Your Costs: There are other ways to minimize the overall cost of your mailing campaign other than compromising frequency or quality. Look at new printing methods and materials, reducing the size of the pieces themselves, being open to contra deals with suppliers and using bulk mail.

Keep Marketing Costs in Perspective: Consider the potential increase in your billings versus the amount you are spending on promotion. At times, it is better to spend a bit more and not reduce frequency or quality rather than making a trade-off that will compromise the entire program.

5. Execution
Just Do It: Making sure you follow through on your “full” direct mail program is key. Don’t jeopardize your campaign by overspending in other areas, making you unable to cover the costs of the program. You will find that cutting out a portion of your program will reduce the overall results by much more than the savings are worth.

6. Expectation
Don’t Panic: Only judge the results of your campaign after fully executing it. 
Building awareness takes time. You shouldn’t lose hope when the results are not immediate. The true reward only comes after the completion of the program.
Be Realistic: The purpose of a promotional campaign is not to actually get you jobs; rather, it is to get you considered for jobs.
Consistency is Key: A direct marketing campaign should reflect the style, positioning and quality of your work.
Prepare to Meet the Demand: Make sure you have enough services to meet the expected demand generated by your campaign. Creative buyers don’t like to wait to see more of your work. Having a web site can be useful, but it does not replace the need for an adequate number of services you provide.
Benefits and Services Comes First: You should plan out your list of services you provide before putting together your promos. Generally, because those services will be the basis upon which your prospect calls upon you is the reason they will consider your business, your services should be a reflection of your work and not the other way around.
Direct mail is the best way to keep in touch with your customers, obtain new clients and generate more business leads for your business. It is also the most measurable medium you can find.
—Source: James E. Sullivan, a Northern California Direct Marketing member, is the Project Manager of the direct mail consultancy agency Optic Nerve Direct Marketing. You can reach him at james@opticnervedirect.com.