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Advantages of Direct Mail


The Many Advantages of Direct Mail

I must admit that of all advertising methods, I prefer direct mail. In 1996, U.S. mail order sales hit $290 billion ($151.3 billion in consumer sales, $78.4 billion in business-to-business sales and $60.3 billion in nonprofit donations). According to Robert Coen of McCann-Erickson, expenditures for all forms of advertising in 1997 should top $109 billion, with direct mail leading the pack with almost $36.6 billion in expenditures (compared to $31 billion for television ads).

Why do companies spend so much on direct mail? Here are just a few of the advantages of direct mail:

It is quicker to produce. You can prepare and mail a small promotion within days or weeks rather than months. Hence, it is perfect for testing prices, titles, offers, and potential audiences. More elaborate and carefully targeted promotions do take longer to prepare, but even then they usually require a shorter lead time than most other media.

Response is quicker. Not only is a direct mail quicker to prepare, but response time to direct mail is usually quicker as well. Thus you can project the final results of a mailing more quickly and accurately than you can with most other advertising.

It can be cheaper, especially for smaller tests. Using computer to generate the sales letters, I have done personalized first-class mailings to lists as large as 500 for only the cost of paper, envelopes, and postage (about 40¢ per piece).

It does not require as much design time. A standardized direct mail format (letter, response card, folder or brochure, and return envelope) is much easier to design and produce than a magazine advertisement or television commercial.

It can be highly targeted. If you choose lists carefully, you can target your mailings more selectively than you can with most other media. You can reach almost any market segment, buyer profile, or area of the country you feel is most appropriate for each book.

It allows you to target hard-to-reach consumers. Direct mail allows you to reach audiences you might not be able to reach through any other method. Rodale Press has sold over a million copies of their book Stocking Up sine its 1977 publication. Only 10% of those sales were made through bookstores. Indeed, of Rodale’s $250 million in 1996 book sales, $212 million were the result of their direct marketing efforts.

It is more flexible. After testing a promotion, you can change almost anything right away without waiting. You have complete control over the media, the audience, and your offer.

It can offer more details. You can pack alot of information into one envelope, far more than you can on a full-page magazine or newspaper ad, or in two minutes or even a half hour on radio or TV.

There is less competition. Your advertising message does not have to compete with other advertising messages or editorial matter. At least, it doesn’t have to compete once the envelope is opened.

Direct mail can be more personal. Not only can letters be personalized via mail-merging techniques, but you can use more informal language in writing your letter and can direct your letter to the specific interest of the reader.

It is easier to respond to. The inclusion of an order card and return envelope makes it easier for the consumer to respond to direct mail as compared to magazine ads (unless you include a bind-in card opposite the advertisement or include a toll-free order number).

It is easier to keep. A direct mail piece is more likely to be retained for future reference than a magazine ad since many readers find it inconvenient to tear an advertisement out of a magazine or will be reluctant to do so. Other forms of advertising (radio, TV, and telemarketing) offer noting to retain.

It can be used to test. You can build an advertising campaign with more confidence by testing small lists, then building to larger lists, and then rolling out to a full list or lists. Strawberry Hill Press turned to direct mail after selling only 3,000 copies of Stephen Chang’s The Book of Internal Exercises. They started small with a four-page direct mail letter to a list of 10,000 proven buyers of health books. When that mailing pulled a 9% response for a net profit of $9,000, they tested a variety of other lists which, in turn, produced a net profit of $40,000. When they finally rolled out to larger lists, they sold almost 100,000 copies of the book within a year (for a net profit of $150,000).

It can build a list of loyal customers. Direct mail allows you to build and maintain an in-house list of prime prospects for your future books (and backlist books). Furthermore, you can make money renting the list. Strawberry Hill Press, in the example noted above, also had over $20,000 worth of list rental income in that same year.

Direct mail helps bookstore sales. When Rudolf Flesch’s The Art of Plain Talk was first published, it sold 1,800 copies through bookstore in two years. Not happy with these results, Flesch persuaded his publisher to test a direct mail campaign. Within seven months, the publisher sold 40,000 copies via direct mail. But the really good news was that they also sold 45,000 copies through bookstores (with no other marketing efforts of any kind).



Just to be fair, there is one major disadvantage of direct mail if you market your books primarily through bookstores. Bookstores do not appreciate it when publishers advertise books for direct sale to consumers; they would much prefer that you send those consumers to them.

Several years ago one bookseller in Manhattan returned 20 copies of The Great Getty to Crown Publishing after he noticed a coupon soliciting direct order in a New York Times Book Review advertisement. Indeed, there have been other cases when several booksellers boycotted publishers who were soliciting direct mail orders for titles normally sold through the trade.

If you are going to use direct mail to sell books that you are also selling through bookstores, be sure to tell your bookstore accounts how your direct mail will help their sales not hinder them. tell them about Rudolf Flesch’s experience noted above. Or remind them of how well Reader’s Digest books sell whenever they do a sweepstakes promotion.

14 Ways to Use Direct Mail

Direct mail can be used for other reasons besides making a direct sale. Here are just a few other ways you can use direct mail to increase the sales of all your books:

1. Obtain inquiries—You can use an inexpensive direct mail package to obtain inquiries about your books which you then follow up with a more expensive and elaborate informational package to obtain a sale.

2. Obtain leads—Use direct mail to obtain leads for direct sales representative or telemarketing staff. This method would be useful for high priced series or collections (encyclopedias, continuity series, or multi-volume reference works). It is also useful for sales to independent retail stores.

3. Offer free trials—One of the most effective ways to sell expensive books is to offer a 15-day (or 30-day) free trial period. When a customer sends in a request, send the book with an invoice. Upon receipt of the books, the customer has 15 days to return the book if not satisfied or pay the accompanying invoice.

4. Supplement retail sales—Harlequin uses direct mail to make sales they would not reach through retail stores. According to their president, Harlequin’s direct sales do not cut into retail sales. This additive effect of direct mail sales has also been noticed in many other industries, such as the toy and gift industries.

5. Boost retail sales—The publishers of Reader’s Digest Books have found that many of the people they mail to actually buy the book at a retail bookstore rather than order direct by mail. Inevitably when they make a mailing on a backlist title, bookstore sales also increase.

6. Increase sales to libraries—By increasing consumer demand via the mails, you also increase the number of people who go to libraries to request the book. Whenever there is a demand for a book, libraries will order the book. You can also stimulate college library sales by mailing to college instructors rather than direct to librarians.

7. Make special sales—To reach potential volume buyers (for premium or catalog sales), direct mail followed up by telephone calls is the most cost-effective way to advertise.

8. Sell subsidiary rights—One of the most cost-effective ways to sell licensing or other subsidiary rights is to reach potential buyers via direct mail and then follow up with telephone calls.

9. Publicize your books—Most publicity is generated via direct mail, again followed up by telephone calls.

10. Maintain contact with key customers—Direct mail can be used to send newsletters, updates, and other customer communications to help you maintain contact with your key customers. Such continuing contact can lead to better customer relations and, hence, to more sales. My recommendation: Contact key customers at least once every two months.

11. Build your customer list—One of the great advantages of direct marketing is that you can build up a list of buyers who are interested in the areas related to your specialty. Many direct marketers will even lose money on their first mailings just so they can build up their list—not only for their own future use but also to rent to others.

12. Conduct research—Use direct mail to do market research and surveys. Many published surveys, opinion polls, and other research is already conducted via this method.

13. Prepare new editorial material—You can use direct mail to help you prepare your editorial content. For example, direct mail is the most cost-effective way to update directory listings.

14. Sell advertising—If you publish directories or other reference books where advertising is accepted, you can sell advertising space by mail.  

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