Frequently Asked Questions About Direct Mail Marketing

Junk mail. Or, as my professors at New York University’s direct marketing program called it “unsolicited direct mail” (they refused to call it the “J” word). Consumers have a love/hate relationship with those catalogs, credit card offers, and coupon packages that arrive daily in their mailboxes. “Why am I getting so much? I wish they’d stop wasting trees. Oooh, look, I’ve been looking for a blue blazer like the one on the cover, let me see that…”

And that’s why people love unsolicited direct mail.

Face it, a catalog or two has caught your eye along the way. During its heyday, using unsolicited mail or prospecting via direct mail was a common way to acquire customers. As I like to say when people want to know “why do companies do that?” – it works. With direct mail, everything is accountable and measurable. If it didn’t work, companies would stop doing it. Hence the beauty of direct mail.

Based on the most frequently asked questions I get on direct mail from friends and family, here’s a brief Q & A on the joys of junk mail.

How do Companies Obtain Names for  a Mailing List?

Marketers rent mailing lists and use these to prospect or seek new business. They get mailing addresses from a variety of places. If you’ve bought something from a catalog company, they can rent your name out to another. Magazine subscriptions, charities, organizations, newspaper subscriptions and others are just a small sample of where your name and address pops up.

Do a test. Call a catalog company or go to their website. Make sure it’s a company you’ve never done business with before. Now ask to receive their catalogs and buy something small from the first one. When you sign up, misspell your name or give them the wrong middle initial.

Copright 2009

Now watch your mailbox and see what pops up 6 to 8 weeks later with the same mistake in the address. Now you know who’s buying lists. It’s an interesting test, isn’t it?

How Can I Stop All Junk Mail?

If you want ALL junk mail to stop, visit DMA Choice. Reputable companies use this list of people who opt-out, or state they do not wish to receive unsolicited mail, and suppress or remove your name from the lists. It won’t stop all your catalogs and other mail. If you’ve ordered from a company, they may continue sending you marketing materials – legal and legitimate. And of course, companies that run shoddy list management practices don’t bother with preference lists.

Direct Mail Just Wastes Trees

Less so than you think. Something close to 95% of all unsolicited mail does get recycled – and about that much is just reused into paper products anyway. Most catalogs are now printed on recycled paper with “green” or environmentally friendly ink. The industry is more environmentally conscious than you think. They just do a bad job promoting it.

Catalogs are Sent at Random

Nobody would invest thousands of dollars in rental fees, postage, printing and more to do something randomly. Direct mail lists are acquired based on strict parameters. The best way is to analyze your own database first, develop a customer profile to figure out who is most likely to buy, then look for lists featuring those customers. That’s the really simple explanation, but that’s how your name ends up on three catalogs for plus sized clothing – someone analyzed your purchase behavior and saw that you’re buy 18W sized dresses and knows you’re in that size bracket and that you seek professional, contemporary clothing.

As for not working, companies that work their numbers, analyze their data, and rigorously test new lists often get great results. Customers who buy through direct mail tend to buy more through direct mail. If the lists is right for the offer, it works.

Of course sometimes you just get on the wrong list. That’s why I keep getting catalogs for cigars.

I’d offer you a light, but I’ve never smoke a single day of my life, nor do I intend to begin chomping stogies anytime soon.

Making Direct Mail Work for Your Company

I’ve gone through some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about direct marketing that I hear from consumers as well as business owners. There’s one big question that’s the elephant in the room; what is a good response rate? To answer that question, please read my Ezine article,  “What is a Good Direct Response Rate” which will walk you through the basics of that very important question.

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