Natural Foods Merchandiser

A direct approach to direct-mail success

Direct mail can be an incredibly powerful tool in the natural products industry. Whether you?re looking to tap into new markets, communicate with existing customers, announce a grand opening or simply win back lost business, DM allows you to send your message out to many people in a quick, affordable fashion.

We all get our fair share of mail offers—some we can use, some we can?t and some will never be read. How to ensure that your message won?t drown in the sea of direct mail that floods so many mailboxes? Follow this checklist, and you?ll be one step ahead of the pack when it comes to saving both time and money.

Set clear, realistic goals
One common pitfall among budding direct marketers takes place long before the first piece of mail ever goes out: failure to plan. In order for your campaign to be successful, you must address the most basic questions: What are your short- and long-term goals? What type of piece will you mail? How many households or businesses are you hoping to reach? What specific action would you like these potential customers to take? Can you even afford a mailer right now? Yes, lots of questions. But if you can answer them honestly, you?re probably ready to launch a mail campaign.

Determine cost
While direct mail isn?t the most expensive way to advertise, it is by no means the least expensive, either. When done properly, however, it can be extremely effective. But an effective mail campaign from start to finish will incur various—often unexpected—expenses along the way. One of the biggest mistakes in DM planning is initiating a campaign without giving precise thought to the total price tag. Your finished piece, your postage, your time and your mailing list will be important factors to consider.

Develop a quality mail piece
Given the sheer amount of direct mail sent out every day, making your piece stand out is essential. If you plan to design it yourself, make sure you know what you?re doing. Today?s mail-savvy consumer can detect amateur quality faster than you can say ?lost sale.?

Use your resources. If you don?t know a skilled graphic designer, ask for referrals among your staff and customers. Your designer should use images that will quickly grab the attention of your health-conscious prospects. If you can afford to do so, use color. Reports have shown that the human eye is 70 percent more responsive to print marketing materials that use color. An investment in the quality of your mailer is an investment in the quality of your return rate.

Tailor your target market
So now that you have a brilliant mail piece that simply couldn?t deliver your message any better, you?ll need to decide to whom you?re going to mail it. To accomplish this, you?ll need to contact a list provider. Companies such as Experian, Dun & Bradstreet and Hoovers are well-established and use state-of-the-art technology to generate accurate custom lists. Have them explain what demographic filters are available (married households, homeowners, pet owners, by income, by zip code) to determine whom you?ll need to target.

Many list providers now offer specialized databases that allow you to target only those individuals involved or interested in fitness, wellness and other related demographics. They may charge a little more for this, but if it helps you reach a more appropriate audience, it could prove very worthwhile.

Find a unique way to deliver
By now, you?ve planned your campaign, developed a great-looking mailer and secured your target list. So all that?s left is to pop your mailers in envelopes, drop them in the mail and let the checks roll in, right? Wrong. Some of the most successful direct marketers rarely use white envelopes.

?You?ve got to be unique,? says Rob Pell, owner of Sunshine Natural Foods in Grants Pass, Ore. ?We send a quarterly newsletter and testimonials every month to feature high-ticket items. It?s been very successful.? To make your mailer as eye-catching as possible, use stickers, funny stamps, handwritten address lines, colored envelopes?whatever it takes. The trick is to maintain a delicate balance between professional appearance and creative flair.

The timing and delivery of your mailer is just as important as the mailer itself. You?ll need to take two things into consideration: the seasonal applicability and the day you?d like it to arrive.

Sending out a direct mailer with the theme ?Colds and Flu? won?t be nearly as successful in July as it will in early December. Nor would you wait until the 24th to send out an offer that expires on the 30th. If you?re targeting consumers, put yourself in their shoes. Think about holiday overeating, New Year?s resolutions, summer diets and spring allergies.

After the mailer
Plan your tracking and follow-up in advance to help you assess what worked, what didn?t and what you?ve earned on your investment. This can be done in a number of ways. Ask new customers how they heard of you. During the development phase, it?s wise to mark your mailers with a tracking code or text instructing the prospect to mention or show the mailer in person. Or perhaps you might want to include a ?must present? coupon in your mailer. Offering free low-cost items such as drink bottles or protein bars with certain purchases is sometimes all it takes to get customers in the door. And while tracking a campaign may seem tedious and time-consuming, it remains one of the best ways to determine what you did right and what you need to improve.

What to expect
Keep in mind that there?s no such thing as a typical response rate. Some of the most effective campaigns have reported 3 percent to 5 percent returns, while more modestly successful attempts may net only 1 percent to 2 percent. The only true measure of success when it comes to using direct mail in the natural products industry is whether or not you made a profit. If you invested $2,500 to mail 5,000 pieces out, netting 100 customers that spent an average of $75, it?s safe to say you did very well. And as your exposure increases over time, so will your success.

One of the most important things to remember is that attaining success by using direct mail takes time. Many of the most successful direct marketers mail several times each year. Start small, stay persistent and never lose sight of the big picture.

Jayson Kroner is a health and fitness writer from Chicago who has been covering the natural products industry for more than 10 years.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 9/p. 56-57

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