First Move Direct Marketing

35 Years of Delivering Direct Marketing Success

35 Years of Delivering Direct Marketing Success

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Even if you are not looking for a response from your next mailing and are looking to communicate information this knowledge will give you a really valuable list of all the many thoughts you need to consider when drafting your mailing.Our challenge is not only to deliver you faultless execution of your mailing production but to create an increasingly profitable, effective, predictable communication process that delivers new customers, retains existing members and encourages repeat purchasing regardless of what you sell, the information you are communicating or the responses you seek. And this is where it starts.


This sounds like an obvious 1st step but let’s run through the processes to ensure you have updated and not missed any of the steps.

1. analyse where your orders/donation have come from, what are the order sources, where did the initial lead originate, what are the values of orders that relate to the source.

2. when do you receive your orders is there a time or event that causes your order intake to vary.

3. calculate your customer/donor life time value. What is the average total value of sales/donations that an average customer/donor places with you over the average number of years they send you money.

4. calculate the average customer/donor profitability.

5.  check the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 split) are 20% of your customers not worth having, is 80% of your sales from 20% of your customers – remember not all customers are equal.

Using the above steps will enable to determine what your average good customer is worth to you and more importantly tells you what you can spend to gain a new customer. This is a key decision because cost of customer acquisition will determine the actions you take in the future.Can you gain new customers profitably at the figure you have determined – if the answer is yes or probably then we move forward – if the answer is no then the challenge is to increase client profitability through increased pricing, reduced costs of operation OR increasing their value through increased repeat purchases.

6.  now you know the long term value of your customer you can decide how much you are prepared to spend on gaining each new customer/donor.

7.  DO NOT set a marketing budget. The challenge is we are to recruit new customers within your cost of acquisition. When we achieve this – why would you stop spending money when you can continue to grow?

8. profile your information by passing your data to an organisation that has collected millions of names and details about those names. They will be able to provide a report on the ages, lifestyle, earnings, type of property, type of jobs, geographical locations etc. to assist you in better understanding your customers. Possible organisations able to assist in this include The Database Partnership, DBS Data and Experian. And when you need to expand your communications to cold names they will be able to supply new names that replicate the characteristics of your existing data.


9.  are you missing opportunities by not following through? Do you have enquiries not followed up? Warranties/guarantees that have been registered for products bought and you have never contacted them since their purchase.

10. can you anticipate customers re-ordering cycles e.g. pairs of shoes wear out, vitamins are taken over a regular timescale – are you contacting existing contacts often enough?


11. keep good records. The first step is to ensure that from now on you keep a record of what you do. Sounds commonsense but so many people don’t and then 6 months later struggle to remember what they did and what the results were. I am suggesting that from this point you are going to undertake a number of tests – say 500 or 1,000 item mailings and we will be running through a large number of things that you can test. You must keep samples of what you do and also record the subtle changes you will be making as you constantly seek to improve your results.

12. code everything you do so that you can monitor what results you achieve.

13. only test 1 thing at a time – you need to know what works and what does not so you have to be controlled in your changes.

One of the great things about direct mail is you can track and monitor your results. No longer do you have to wonder if something is worth doing – you will know. You will not be able to hide your failures and you will be able to recognise your successes.Failure is OK – you can not succeed without failure – some things will improve results some will not – that’s a simple fact and one that works to your advantage. The process I am describing is designed to minimise the cost of failures and produce predictable results.

14. code everything in order that you can identify what part of your data is performing best. Code different types of data, code different offers, code changes in headline, what difference a change in price makes – believe it or not sometimes higher prices can outperform low prices in orders as well as in the overall sales value.

15. record results on a day by day basis. You need to record each response against each code. After you have done a few tests and seen the results over a number of days/weeks you will be able to forecast your results within a few days of the first responses occurring. This will shorten your learning time and stop you having to wait until the end of a promotion period before you can understand the results. Fail fast and move on.


16. grab your readers attention with a headline that is relevant to them.

17. use a sub-headline to validate your headline or explain a major benefit.

18. be clear about your USP (unique selling proposition) why someone should donate or place an order or work with you – it must be meaningful and specific.

19. write to somebody – have an idea of the person you are writing to and write to that one person.

20. know your target audience and use the words they use.

21. your ideal customer – know who or what they are and have them firmly in your mind as you create your message /story.

22. benefit or feature lead – what’s in it for your reader – you have to get them to read on – the headline should be involving, enticing them to find out more,

23. test power words like Free, Save, Achieve, Benefit, Compelling, Critical, Easy, Guarantee, Health, How to, Improve, Instant, Love, New , Now, Powerful, Quick, Results, Secrets,, Simple, Strong, Unlimited, Winning.

24. good offers can make a simple opening.

25. address the reader as part of a group ‘As a doctor …As an engineer’ etc.

26. solve a problem.

27. shock or surprise the reader ‘Did you know that …’

28. simply announce the main benefit.

29. do not use CAPITAL LETTERS except for odd words – people are not used to reading capitals.

30. don’t use excessive punctuation !!!!!

31. flatter the reader. ‘The …is not for everyone’.


32. make your letter look and be personal – if you have information over and above the basic name and address bring it into the copy to show you recognise them as an individual.

33. FName if you are writing to a customer – personalise – show that you recognise them by using the information in your data.

34. short letter or long letter. Experienced direct marketers will virtually always tell you long out performs short. Providing it is well written ‘salesmanship in print’.

35. if you are printing digitally vary the images used e.g. If you are selling reading glasses show pictures of people wearing glasses that are the same sex as the reader.

36. tell a story – people are interested in stories about other people (or about you) and this aids creditability and can help overcome objections.

37. surprise shock or startle the reader – ‘did you know that a health and food inspector can close down your kitchen?’

38. make an invitation.

39. give news – e.g. a decision by bureaucrats in Brussels.

40. short sentences.

41. sub-headings – they can tell the story in brief.

42. use a conversational tone.

43. use simple words.

44. indent the 1st line of each paragraph.

45. use features and benefits.

46. say you have improved the product.

47. if you have a list of benefits start with the long description and then progressively make the benefit description shorter – it helps in holding the readers attention.

48. use bullets or numbers if you are making a list.

49. do not use CAPITAL LETTERS.

50. salutation – avoid Dear Sir/Madam if you don’t know say Dear Reader or something similar.

51. use ‘you’ or ‘I’ – not ‘we’ and ‘us’. This is about your reader not about you. You should have 3x’s as many ‘you’s’ as ‘we’s.

52. use specific numbers in your copy – specific numbers are believable, approximate numbers are not

53. use numbers not words – 7 not seven.

54. use words that you would in your everyday language as though you were speaking to the individual you are writing to.

55. use examples or testimonials from previous users to provide confidence.

56. keep paragraphs short.

57. be careful with jargon.

58. make your letter look attractive and interesting.

59. give your paragraphs white space.

60. be specific in your copy – it’s more believable.

61. back up any claims with facts- it must be certain otherwise your reader will believe you are being creative.

62. use a serif typeface – people are accustomed to this from newspapers and books.

63. type of paper used – if you are mailing high net worth individuals consider better paper.

64. ‘squiggling’ the use of a hand written note in the margin or the underlining of a word by hand – to draw attention to an important element.

65. get the most senior person you can to sign the letter – it adds to the gravity and importance of the communication.

66. test a 2nd colour – used carefully it can be used to highlight key words.


67. give a reason why you are making the offer

68. show what a real value or benefit can be derived from taking action

69. if you are asking for donations don’t be afraid of suggesting higher values – a percentage of your donors will always donate more

70. if you have information from a past donation/purchase use that to frame/vary your call to action

71. a significant part of the process is to drive people who are offline – on-line

72. all methods of contact should be clear – web, telephone and order/donation forms

73. an offer must be dated as a call to action – Act Now! The price is going up – limited time offer, only a limited number available

74. price changes

75. 3 for 2 to increase the average order value

76. combine items together to show savings – normally increases average revenue per order by more than 20%

77. guarantee – you should not fear this – it is very rare that people will abuse a guarantee even if it is ‘money back’

78. test the call to action in more than one place, on a separate order/donation form, close to your web information

79. add a bonus if they respond quickly

80. be clear in your instructions so that even if the letter is lost they can still see what they were

interested in

81. a pre-paid reply envelope

82. have the name and address already printed on the order / donation form

83. feature the telephone

84. make the telephone a free pay number

85. have a person to reply to rather than a department

86. the signature in blue


88.  you have already committed to the large fixed costs of postage envelopes etc adding in extra items will not greatly increase your costs and should lift responses (try not to go over 100 grams in weight to control mailing costs).

89. reply paid envelope.

90. separate order/donation form.

91. additional stories of people.

92. additional letter from a 3rd party – patron, celebrity, product user.


93.  messages on envelopes should be treated with care – a message should encourage curiosity not simple allow the receiver to judge whether they open the envelope or not.

94. the message in different colours and images.

95. use a hand written font if addressing the envelope directly.

96. using a postage stamp will almost certainly increase response – your mailing house can cancel the stamp before mailing so that you can reclaim any postage savings using mailsortation after you post.

97. add or remove your logo and or name from the envelope.

98. test polythene wrapped vs. envelopes.

99. colour or manila vs. white envelopes.


100. have someone read it out loud.

101. check for comprehension.

102. have someone read it that doesn’t know the offer/request and check they understand what has been written.

As you run through this list – which is by no means exhaustive all of these areas can be tested.It is quite common in the UK that no testing whatsoever is undertaken. The need to hurry something through takes over the commonsense approach of doing a little, doing a couple of different ideas and seeing how it goes before expanding the activity. In general having found a creative that works – we leave it alone and that suggests that it can not be improved – which is almost never the case.

103. test one thing at a time so that you can monitor the results of the change made.

104. code everything so that you can identify the source and track of all your responses.


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