The term direct mail is used to refer to commercial letter or parcel communications sent to existing or potential customers (patients, colleagues, donors etc) via Australia Post or other physical delivery services.
Postal mail is one of the most effective ways to keep in touch with customers and find new ones. It cuts through clutter often accommodated with other forms of advertising and literally delivers your message into the hands of your target audience. For building relationships with customers, the use of direct mail can put you on a much more personal footing than using other media.
If you are a healthcare provider, you are most likely familiar with the use of professional direct mail and no doubt a regular recipient of this communication method favoured by suppliers of healthcare and lifestyle goods and services.
All direct mail campaigns are made up of four key elements: a mailing pack, a mailing list, mail processing and delivery. When a campaign contains an offer to order something by return mail, a fifth element fulfilment, comes into play.
Putting direct mail plans into action
When you've completed your plans, it's time to action them and execute your campaign. There are a number of practical issues to consider when putting together your direct mail piece including:
- The mail pack
- The mail list
- Mail processing
- Privacy, regulations and mandatories
Direct mail offers healthcare advertisers the opportunity to apply originality and creativity to stimulate readers in tangible ways that can’t be matched in electronic communications. What your mail pack ultimately looks like will depend on your target audience, your budget and the limits of your imagination.
Unlike other media, direct mail provides the luxury of being able to point out features and benefits in detail. Another major benefit of direct mail is that any offers can be supported with response mechanisms which may be part of the letter or brochure, or separate such or reply paid card or envelope with an order form that makes it easy for customers to reply.
A typical direct mail pack will consist of four main components:
- An Envelope
- A Letter
- An Advertising Brochure (or flier)
- A Response Device.
The envelope is the first thing a customer sees and is what may determine whether your mail piece gets inside the door or goes into the rubbish bin. Including a headline, image or logo on your envelope that hints at what is inside, is often a good way to ensure your mail gets opened. However, there is also an argument for leaving the envelope blank, making it look more like an important piece of business mail and therefore, more likely to get opened. To find out what works best for your campaign, you may need to test both options.
Different sized envelopes may attract different postage rates, so take this into consideration when creating your pack. Small letters (like office sized DL, DLE, DLX) are the cheapest for postage. Larger sizes, such as A4 (C4) size are significantly more expensive to mail, but have the benefits of carrying more (unfolded) information. You also need to ensure your envelopes are correctly addressed to Australia Post standards to qualify for any relevant bulk mail discounts. If you are using a personalised letter, consider using a window-faced envelope to save additional addressing and matching costs.
The letter is the most important component in the mail pack and should clearly establish who you are, why you are writing, what you're offering and why the customer should respond. Effective direct mail communications are often composed using specialised direct marketing copywriting techniques that include persuasive wording.
When constructing your letter, try using the AIDA principle:
- Attention - attract your reader’s attention with a simple and single-minded message.
- Interest - elaborate on the benefits of your offer.
- Desire - concentrate on how your reader will benefit from taking up your offer.
- Action - make sure your call-to-action is simple, clear and urgent, and give a deadline to respond.
Remember you are talking to a single customer and as such, your letter should read as though it has been written for that one person. The best way to achieve this is through personalisation. Personalisation is a method used to produce individual communications by merging data such as personal names from address lists and databases with text in your letter.
Personalisation can be as simple as addressing your letter "Dear John" instead of "Dear valued customer" or as complex as using different messages, images and formats for different audiences. For example, the text within a letter could say something like “…we noticed that it has been 14 months since you last visited us…”. Advances in digital printing have increased both the availability and affordability of personalisation in recent years making it a popular inclusion in most direct mail campaigns.
Other letter writing tips:
- Make sure your letter flows logically.
- Keep your paragraphs short.
- Break up the text with headings, sub headings and bullet points.
- Start the letter with your strongest offer. If you don’t have an offer, lead with your unique selling point.
- Use simple words and active verbs, as in "act now" and "don’t delay".
- Cut out adjectives, especially words like "fantastic", "unbelievable" and "awesome".
- Write in second person. This means you address the reader directly by using "you".
- Always add a PS (Post Script). The headline at the top and the PS at the bottom are the first things that people look at. Use the Post Script to reiterate your main offer—never introduce a new thought in the PS.
Not every mailing requires a brochure (sometimes referred to as a flier if it is a single sheet), particularly if you have a simple message, however brochures can be useful if you have a lot of detailed information to explain, or you need to illustrate your products and services. If you do include a brochure, make sure it's not just a straight repeat of information you included in the letter. It should offer additional value to the reader by way of detailed information, diagrams or images as well as a clear call-to-action.
The easier you make it for the customer to respond to you, the more responses you will receive. In this sense, including multiple response devices will often give you a better result as customers choose the channel they prefer to use.
Response devices include:
- Coupons and order forms (with a separate Reply Paid envelope or in the form of a self-mailer postcard)
- Toll free phone numbers
- Website address
- Branch locations
- Email address.
If you are testing different elements within your campaign, be sure to have a way of tracking those responses either through the use of source codes or campaign specific phone numbers or websites. You should also look at your response device as a way of capturing more information about your customers. Consider including a short questionnaire with the order form or on the campaign website, or an option for existing customers to update their details.*
A mailing list is a collection of names and addresses of a group of existing customers or prospects. Lists are typically held in a database (possibly within an existing program that you already use, such as practice management software) or separately in a spreadsheet. Lists can be made up of contacts maintained by your business, or contacts belonging to a third party with permission to be used, or a combination of both. What you ultimately use for a mailing list will often depend on the market you are trying to reach, and occasionally, the size of the audience involved.
List quality is extremely important in direct mail marketing for two reasons: 1) Accuracy – information in address lists ages and goes out of date quickly if not constantly maintained. Mailing campaigns are expensive and every ‘dead letter’ costs money with no hope of return on your investment. 2) S-e-g-m-e-n-t-a-b-i-l-i-t-y – a quality list will often contain additional profile information about each individual such as: age, income bracket, location, profession and specialty, buying patterns etc. Profile criteria can be used to refine the targeted distribution and reduce the potential size of a mail-out. This saves money and improves response potential by reaching better qualified audiences that will be more pre-disposed to your propositions.
Professional List sources -
The first place to check for a suitable mailing list for your campaign is inside your own business. If you don’t keep marketing lists for your own purposes, it’s often surprising how much contact information is kept within an organisation from prior relationships with clients, collegues and suppliers, that can be assembled for related direct marketing purposes.*
If you are not so fortunate, and need a simple list, there may be a case for establishing and maintaining your own list of contacts from scratch. Medical and allied health professional details for example can often be obtained from public domain sources such as profession and government services websites, and other online or printed directories. Before copying details from any directories however, check that you are not breaching any copyrights. Also, be aware that information in open listings can often be out of date. Whenever personal contact details are gained from public or secondary sources, they should be verified directly with individuals, who should also be informed of the intended use of the information if it is reasonalbe and practicable to do so before use.*
If you do build your own list, use a structured and secured contact database that can export data in common data formats such as comma delimited (.csv) or text (.txt), and remember, consistency and accuracy of data entry are essential otherwise you will end up with major addressing and delivery problems.
The alternative to building a list is renting. Lists for many professional healthcare categories are often available through representative associations or dedicated list management companies. Another source for professional lists is through List Brokers. The latter generally act as agents for the former, however if your mailing needs to go to multiple professional target groups brokers offer and advantage as they can arrange, organise and merge and deduplicate combinations of lists from different list suppliers (which will often be in different formats). Although renting adds to your campaign costs, dedicated professional lists are generally very accurate and the databases they come from often contain valuable profile information that improves targeting. The other benefit of renting lists is that reputable list owners will have pre-sought permission from the contacts for their details to be used for third-pary direct marketing purposes. One thing to be aware of when renting is that you usually don’t actually receive a copy of the list. Renting is generally made on the condition that lists will only be handled by approved intermediates such as brokers and mailing houses, and are used only once. Most list managers and brokers will ask you to sign a rental agreement before arranging any data. On the plus side, any names and addresses that returned to you through responses to your mailings will become yours to keep and use for future mailings.
Questions to ask external data and mailing list providers.
To get the most from external lists, you should seek answers to the following:
1. How comprehensive is the list in terms of the total potential target audience size? Does it provide national or just state or regional coverage? See Healthcare Market Sizes
2. How old is the data – how often are the records updated?
3. Is the list personalised? – i.e. do addresses contain personal names and titles for correct salutations? (If the list does not contain names it is still possible to ‘generically address’ address by inserting target occupation titles such as: To the Chief Pharmacist or To the Householder)
4. Does the list come with DPID numbers? (Delivery Point Identifiers – necessary for bar coding bulk pre-sorted mail)
5. Does the database contain profile information used for segmentation, such as age, gender, languages spoken?
6. Does the database contain activity information used for prioritising targets, such as number of patients seen per week, or prescribing level? Determine the coverage of this information. Is it held for all records or only some records?
7. Does the list manager maintain an opt-out (Do Not Mail) register?
8. Does the list owner have permission from individuals on the list to send them mail from relevant third-parties?
Mail Processing and Delivery
Mail processing is the term given to the physical preparation and assembly of mail components and includes, printing and personalisation of covering letters, folding, envelope stuffing, addressing, mail sorting and more.
The volumes of materials handling can be easily underestimated when it comes to mailing campaigns, which is why most direct mail is processed using external mail houses that have automated processing facilities. Mail houses can offer valuable assistance with designing the main elements of a mail campaign. They will also clean up your mailing lists by deduplicating listees and correcting case formats. They can also add barcodes and DPID codes that aid pre-sorting of mail to preferred Australia Post distribution standards. Finally, they will process and lodge mail with Australia Post, applying for the lowest bulk mail rates obtainable which can translate into significant savings. Note that some mailing houses may ask for estimated postage fees up-front if they do not have an account for you.
Fulfilment is simply another term for mail processing, however it is usually used in the context of fulfilling orders in the last part of the direct marketing cycle. For example, a doctor may order a sample of a product via a direct mail order form. The picking, packing and shipment of that sample to the doctor is the fulfilment process. Mailing houses will generally offer outsourced fulfilment solutions, which often require labour intensive amounts of ‘hand work’. Fulfilment is not limited only to the mail process, it can be driven by other forms of media such as e-commerce websites, telemarketing and advertising. It may not even require return mail. Fulfilment can also be what logically happens next when a customer responds to your offer and could be simply calling for more information or an appointment, or seeing a representative from your organisation.
About Bar Coded Mail
Barcoding mail allows Australia Post to efficiently process mail resulting in cheaper postage rates if you using their PreSort, Charity Mail or Acquisition Mail delivery services. The barcoding process begins with the allocation of a unique 8-digit number, known as the Delivery Point Identifier (DPID) for each address. This number is obtained from commercial Address Matching Approval System (AMAS) certified software that uses Australia Post’s Postal Address File (PAF) for address validation. The DPID is then turned into a barcode that generally appears above an envelope address.
Unless you manage a large sophisticated contact database, barcoding is probably best left to a mailing house who have the appropriate software and expertise in this area.
Note: barcoding is not ideal for everyone. If you only send out a few hundred letters every now and then, the actual costs of setting up barcoding may outweigh the potential discounts received. If on the other hand, you send out thousands of letters on a regular basis, barcoding is probably worthwhile and could create substantial savings.
Discounted mail services
Australia Post offers discounted rates for:
PreSorted Letters - customers lodging more than 300 machine-addressed articles that are barcoded and sorted into pre-defined AP zones. Even further discounts can be received by choosing to send off-peak which adds up to a week to final delivery.
Charity Mail - Special prices are made available to registered charities sending small letters using the PreSort Letters delivery service. Special applications are required.
Acquisition Mail - is a cost effective way to generate broad-level sales leads, patient awareness, donations or sign up new members to your organisation. Acquisition Mail service allows you to send a non-personalised (generic) addressed mail piece to households in specific postcodes, suburbs or Census Collection Districts (CCD). For example:
To the Resident
123 Summer St
SUMMERVALE VIC 3210
In conjunction with an approved mailing house, Australia Post will supply, access to an address count tool to help plan your campaign; addresses for nominated target regions, plus significant discounted mail delivery.
Note that there are a number of conditions required to be eligible to use the Australia Post PreSort letter service. Contact your mailing house, Australia Post or Healthcare Marketing Matters for details.
* Before embarking on any of theses activities, marketers in Australia should be fully aquainted with obligations imposed by the Australian Government Privacy Act. Read our article on Privacy for more information.