Act Now! Expert Has 50 Direct Mail Tips That Work. And It's Free!

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Need a tip or two on improving your direct mail efforts? How about 50!

Scott Swedenburg of Mail Enterprises, Birmingham, Ala., offered those "50 Direct Mail Tips" in remarks before CUES' Marketing, Operations and Technology Conference here.

Acknowledging that some of the tips were simple and introductory, Swedenburg's tip #1 was "plan."

Here's a look at the rest of his advice:

2. The Who are #1. "Knowing your members and prospective members is the most important thing."

3. Know who are your best members. "Not every member is the same. You have to treat them differently." For that reason, he encouraged "list hygiene. When you're mailing make sure you de-dupe and run your list against change of address lists."

4. Segment your members. "Look to see how you want to split up your members into different groups."

5. Recency, frequency and dollars spent.

6. Know your members by their demographics, behaviors and attitudes. "If you know they have children at home, it helps you to know their needs. By behavior, you need to know what products do they currently use. If they use those, mail on something related. On attitude, you need to know WHY they might have chosen you. Was it location? Pricing? Convenience? Because they had no other credit union to join?"

7. "When" matters. "When you mail matters. We always try, for instance, if someone opens a checking account to mail soon after a piece on a check card. And sometimes we mail right at the beginning of school for home equity loans."

8. The Why is #2. "Who you mail to is most important-it can be 50% of the reason for response rate-but the why is the second most important."

9. Match the offer to your list. "Is this something that segment wants?" The offer is about 30% of the response."

10. Exclusive. "We all like to get something nobody else has. Give the impression you can't get this anywhere else."

11. It Has To be Exciting. "You have to make it exciting. How many times have you gotten something in the mail and thought, 'I can't believe I even opened the envelope for this'?"

12. Make it simple. "Credit unions can be terrible about this. Half the stuff I see scares people to death when they start looking at it. Try to make it simple and easy to respond, make it so they can understand it right away.

13. Guarantee. "Put a guarantee in if you can. Take away the risk; people are risk-adverse. Look at what guarantee you can provide."

14. FREE! "Free is the best thing in the world. People want things that are free. What can you put in your offer that is free?" He pointed to a mailing from The Economist headlined, "Agenda of Benefits," including "four free trial issues." "People with money and who are highly educated still want free stuff and want discounts. We sometimes think our clients are too sophisticated. They want free stuff, too. Don't look at your group of members and say, 'They wouldn't go for this.'"

15. "What" matters. "This is the package, and it's responsible for about 10% of the response."

16. Teaser copy. "Test different things and see what works."

17. Lumpy. "This is an envelope that has something in it other than the offer. Our curiosity is so great we always open it. We have to know what's in there, even if it's worth a penny."

18. Color and size. "Test different colors and sizes. We test all kinds of sizes. The plain white with nothing on it works well, but sometimes a yellow envelope works."

19. Reply envelope. "Make it other than just the business reply envelope. Address it, 'Attention mortgage officer' to show there's some importance to it and someone is going to open it as soon as it comes to the credit union."

20. Write one-to-one. "So many financial institutions get away from that one-to-one writing. You're writing to an individual, trying to convince them that your organization can help them in some way. Make it personal. Don't be so business-like."

21. What's your hook? "You need to have a hook in the first paragraph and get people somehow emotionally involved. Emotions are what get people to make decisions, and later on they will justify it logically."

22. Dear Friend. "Nothing wrong with these. You can say Dear Member. But always say Dear Friend with a comma, not with a colon. As soon as they see that colon they assume you are writing to everyone."

23. Type. Use serif type, black ink, and double space. "A big part of your member group is older and doesn't read as well as it used to. Think about whom you are writing to. Don't use a lot of reversed-out type and a lot of screens."

24. Long vs. short letter. "This depends, but most times a short letter is all you need. A few benefits is all you need." He added that in a letter of more than one page, text shouldn't end with a period on the first page, it should continue to the second.

25. Use stories. "You say, 'We're a financial institution, we've got to deal with numbers and facts.' But have you ever thought about writing, 'One of our members really benefited from...' People like stories. They remember them. It presents an underlying message."

26. Talk about the member, not the product or the organization. "I don't care how long you've been in business. I want to know how is your organization going to make me and my life better."

27. Use a PS in a letter. "They're probably the second or third thing read in a letter, after your name and the first sentence or paragraph. This is a great place to sum up the action you want them to take."

28. Pictures. "Show some pictures of members using the product. Let them show how it improved their lives."

29. Ask for the order, call, etc. "A lot of times people write direct mail that doesn't ask for anything."

30. Tell members what to do. "First of all you ask for the business, and then you have to tell them what to do-'Complete the attached form, mail it back.' People want to be told what to do. Don't just say go to the website. Tell them what to do when they get there."

31. It's about YOU not me. "Use YOU a lot in letters."

32. Underline, Bold, Italics. "Use these things, but don't overuse."

33. Bad English. "Don't write your letter based on trying to get an A from your high school English teacher. You can have a three or four-word paragraph, because that emphasizes something. Write for results."

34. Personalize. "You always get a higher response rate when it's personal." But he noted that the USPS has said that mail with personal account information can no longer be mailed bulk, and must go first class.

35. Testimonials. "Use a testimonial from one of your members. Show how it helped their life."

36. Power words. "Don't get out a Thesaurus. Use 'one time,' 'limited,' 'free'; use 'you' a lot. It's words that convey an action you want them to take."

37. Eliminate asterisks and fine print. "As much as you can, eliminate these. Asterisks scare everyone. It says, 'What they say they're doing, they're not doing.'"

38. Lift Note. "All that is is anything that lifts response. Maybe it's a handwritten note from one of your members. It could be a list of features of the product."

39. In his remarks, Swedenburg deliberately skipped #39 in his PowerPoint as a means of showing how omissions catch attention and can destroy the rest of the offer-or can involve the target right away.

40. Look for ways to involve the reader. "This is where you have to know what's important to your members."

41. Have a deadline for action to be taken.

42. Reply device. "Make sure it's as simple as possible to fill out."

43. Ask for permission to e-mail. "E-mail and direct mail go very well together."

44. Take advantage of "Big $ Advertising." "If you're doing television or billboards, do the direct mail at the end of it. It's on people's minds."

45. Mail, once, twice... "How often should you mail. If it's often, you've got to be sending something of value. If not, one letter a year may upset the member."

46. Track results. "Make sure there is a system in place to track results. If you're not going to track, don't do it. Some are going to work, some not, and you're going to want to know what's not working so you can improve it."

47. Give options: 800 number, website, envelope, visit, etc.

48. 1+1=3. "What this means is, look to see if there is a partner with whom you don't compete where you can do something together."

49. Say thank you and sell another product. "If someone opens a checking account, send them a letter thanking them for their business and then also include another offer."

50. Test, test TEST. "I can't emphasize this enough. Test your ideas on a small sample."

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