Basic Steps to Effective Direct Mail

I hate advertising that lies. Of course, everybody has his or her own definition of what "not lying" means. It's one thing not to lie, but it's another thing not to tell the whole truth. Major players in print advertising are successful by not telling the whole truth in their ads.'

Think about it. Airlines have full-page ads that talk about "One-way fares starting at $89." Then you discover the "fine print." A round trip is required, they will not sell you a one-way fare at $89, a Saturday night stay is required and you have to buy the ticket 21 days in advance. The airlines hook you by not telling you very much in advance.

Rental car companies are worse. They advertise a "full-size, four-door car," but if you read the small print, you're actually renting a mid-size car. You get a Buick Century, Oldsmobile Cutlass, or something similar. If you want a full-size car, you have to rent a "Premium" car. They can get away with it because they are big name companies, and they spend a lot of advertising dollars. They don't lie; they just don't tell you the whole truth. They don't tell you everything in advance.

Then there are the Dick Clark/ Ed McMahon "You have won a gazillion dollars" sweepstakes. They should be put out of business for their tactics of making people think that they've won millions of dollars, in my opinion. But they do hook you with the big print and the personalization of their mailers, and these are techniques we can definitely learn from.'

Attention grabbers, teasers, personalization these are things we can all do to increase the effectiveness of our direct mail. But we can do them even better if we do them truthfully.

Be honest
The first rule of thumb is never'lie in direct-mail advertising. Dishonesty is off putting to customers, and can interfere with building the trust necessary to have a successful partner relationship. However, you can be creative without being misleading.'

Remember, in direct mail, less'is more.'

Check the direct-mail pieces you get each day. See for yourself which ones get your attention.

Don't tell your recipients too much. All you want to do is get them to come in or make an appointment so you can give them your whole pitch. Learn from the big guys. But above all, be honest.

Trigger a response
When planning your next direct-mail campaign, think about what you actually want to accomplish. It's going to be very hard to sell a new kitchen or bathroom through the mail. Prospects are not going to send in a check with a coupon.'

The best you can do is to get a prospect to call you, come in to see you or make an appointment for you to go to his or her home. You do this by tweaking a prospect's interest level enough to trigger a response. You don't need two brochures and a three-page letter to do it. As a matter of fact, you don't need very much at all.

A kitchen and bath dealer in the Midwest told me a great story. He was holding a clinic in his showroom on "How to remodel your kitchen without draining your wallet." It was by invitation only, and he sent out 500 mailers. He'd done this before, and had always gotten 10 to 20 people to come. Each time, he averaged two or three jobs out of it.'

Well, when he sent out the mailer this time, his staff forgot to stuff 100 of the envelopes. On the outside of all the envelopes was the word "Important!" Sixty of the people who received empty envelopes called to ask him what was supposed to be inside. As a result, he had his biggest turnout ever . . . strictly by accident.

The point is this: For a direct-mail campaign to be effective, you have to get the envelope opened first, and you need to trigger a response by what's inside. I'm not suggesting that you send out empty envelopes, but you do need to do something that will generate action.'

Why not print "Important!" on the outside of the envelope? Or "You're going to LOVE this!"'Better still, write it yourself 'in red felt tip pen. That may sound like a little much for a 500-piece mailing, but it's not. The difference in the response you'll get from that mailing will more than make up for the time you'll spend writing.'

Don't underestimate the power of handwriting. The simple act of putting a real signature on a sales letter instead letting a printer do it has proven time and again to change the way prospects feel about the sender. They see real ink on the page and they think: "Hey, this isn't some mass mailing that went out to a million people Bill James at Dream Designs sent this to me personally!"

You could do something as simple as sending a postcard that reads, "Trying to reach you, please give me a call." The important thing is to get a response.

Personalization can also help to draw a response from potential customers. One suggestion would be to write your phone number in longhand. That's great personalization. A good percentage of the prospects will call, and then it's up to you to get them to come in. Or try a postcard that reads, "Have good news for you; give me a call." The "good news" could be that a nice new bathroom would cost less than they might expect.

A great direct-mail piece could contain a lottery ticket and the promise of four more just for coming to your showroom to "evaluate" a new kitchen cabinet design. People love lottery tickets, and they also love to give their opinions. If they don't come in, you can call to ask if they still want the four lottery tickets you have set aside for them, or would they rather you give them to someone else? I bet they make an appointment to come down. The curiosity factor of being a possible winner can work to your advantage.

So think carefully before sending out your next direct-mail piece. Don't show your whole hand all at once. Tell them just a little to get them in. And save the bulk of information for once they're in your showroom.

Bob Popyk is publisher of Creative Selling, a monthly newsletter on sales and marketing strategies. He is the author of the book, How to Increase Your Kitchen & Bath Business by 25% . . . Starting Next Week! available through the National Kitchen and Bath Association, and is a speaker at various industry events, including the Kitchen & Bath Design Expo, sponsored by Kitchen & Bath Design News. For a free sample of his newsletter, call 800-724-9700, or visit his Web site at .