A Direct Mail Failure?

I was recently speaking to a client who had told me that he was doing “my style” of direct mail marketing and getting “disappointing” results.

When I asked what disappointing was… he said, “we mailed out a 3 step letter campaign ‘as instructed’ and had only received a 1-3% response rate”.

Hmmm…. Where do I start?

Some Facts:

  • He’s got a fairly new business (over a year) and had been marketing the new business for about 3 months. “MY STYLE” or not – a few months (in marketing time) is hardly enough time to call something a failure. That’s like saying – I started doing sit-ups today… where are my ripped abs? I mean, is this really enough time to make significant progress? (Incidentally, this is not MY STYLE… I didn’t invent it. But through comprehensive research, guidance and practical application – the 3 step mail campaign is an absolute proven practice.)

  • We looked at his mailing list… it wasn’t specifically targeted. It was a new list of people who didn’t know him. He had never marketed to them before.

  • We looked at his offer… it wasn’t compelling. It wasn’t incredible. It wasn’t irresistible. It wasn’t risk-free.

  • This was a bad start.

The Biggest Misconception About Marketing – Expecting Too Much, Too Soon.

I’ve seen it with SEO. A client hired us for search engine optimization help and we proceeded to go in and optimize his website, his content and his ongoing communication. In 30 days I got a phone call asking “what’s going on… I haven’t seen any leads.” :-(

With SEO - there are specific activities and items that when structurally sound and put in the right places – can give your website “a push” towards the top. What it doesn’t guarantee is immediate success. With good SEO in place, Google and other search engines will rank your site higher... but if you make changes... those changes don't affect your overall status overnight. It takes them time to visit your site and crawl through your pages. Sometimes they can do it in a week, sometimes in a month. There are over 200 factors to their ranking algorithm. With SEO in place – we cannot guarantee immediate results, but we can guarantee improved results. 6 months down the road, this same client was ranking in the top 3 positions for 2 major keywords. His lead generation improved and sales went up.

And so goes it with direct mail. I’ve been amazed at the number of people who think they ought to be able to mail a letter or two and get business. I relate it to a business owner believing that once they opened their business and hung a sign outside - people would line up for what they have to offer. I think we all know that this just never happens that way. There is always pre-work, strategy, messaging and marketing that needs to occur to steer your campaign towards a positive result.

Of course, I’ve worked with clients who have had results happen quickly. But it’s never the norm. So many factors go into this picture. The market, the need, the message and offer and how to reach them are all important things to work out and know. Is this B2B or B2C? Can we get demographic, geographic and psychographic data on our targets? How do we know they will respond to our offer?

Marketing is a Multiple Contact Sport

Building a reputation for your company and securing a position in the marketplace takes time and repetition. Our client IS doing the right thing; but he can’t give up too soon, nor can he have a misconception of how and when things should improve.

Now… let’s talk about results. A 1%-3% response rate on a cold list who he’s never spoken to before is not only acceptable in my book… but can actually pull in a fantastic ROI. Let’s look at the numbers. As a training consultant to pharmaceutical sales teams – his average client can be easily worth $25K - $100K/year, not including the other training products and offers he has. So – he mails 100 letters and gets 3 people to respond and closes 1 of them for $25K. With an initial investment in the direct mail campaign (including buying a list and a series of Fedex packages)… of $3,000 and a return of $25,000 in new business will yield him a 733% ROI. That being the case – my advice is to keep doing one of those a month.


It goes without saying that the best list is the one you’ve built and nurtured from scratch with your own two hands. Those people who have read your blog and received your newsletter may not be the right customer, but building a relationship with people over time surely starts to build trust, authority and most importantly, mindshare.

Someone once told me – in order to get really, really good at marketing… you have to fail a lot by doing a lot of bad marketing. Let that settle in. Yes – sometimes I do wake up in the morning looking to fail. I have been known to run a campaign to prove it will fail OR run a campaign to shake out some things. In these situations – I hope to fail so my campaign becomes tighter and more predictable over time. Yes – failure is the best teacher. It is perfectly OK to fail under the guise of “testing”. The only way to know if something is truly going to work is to test it and refine it. My advice when testing is to devise a strategy that you can afford. Create a sample test that is affordable and be prepared to lose it, but also to learn something to protect your larger investment.

Over the years I’ve relied less and less on list buying and more and more on developing my own list of “readers” or “followers”. They have subscribed to my blogs, through social media, they have signed up for a newsletter or have downloaded 1 of many free reports we’ve written over the years. I’ve developed a relationship with them and they trust my advice. When I have something special and irresistible to offer – they are the best people to engage with.

If you want to get really good at marketing – you need to be doing some marketing tasks every day. There is a powerful force behind the scenes known as “marketing momentum”. I’ve always referred to this as the wheel theory with marketing at the hub and each of the spokes leading to one specific activity. When you have multiple marketing activities running at the same time, something wonderful happens. Your results become exponential. Success builds upon success and so does lead generation when done right. But you have to be vigilant and consistent. And most important – don’t give up after a couple of letters. If the list is right… maybe the offer is wrong. If the list and offer are right… maybe the delivery vehicle for your message is wrong.

Only through testing and failing can you figure it out. If you'd like to have a discussion on what type of campaign is right for you... let's chat. Just reach out to us using our simple form and we can set up a 10 minute call and see where it goes. Thanks again!