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Take the Junk Out of Direct Mail

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by Brian Jud, Book Marketing Consultant —

Brian Jud

When you have a finite, identifiable group of people who are potential customers for your books, direct mail may be the most effective and efficient marketing tool you can use to reach them. It gives you control of the timing, delivery, and content of your promotion, a pre-determined fixed cost, and the means to forecast and measure the return on your marketing investment.

Your direct-mail campaign will be more successful if you first prepare a tactical plan. The plan should outline the actions you intend to take in five key areas: (1) the books/products you offer, (2) the target market, (3) the special offer, (4) the format, and (5) the ways in which you test and evaluate your implementation.

The Product

Before you decide if the title you select can be sold successfully via direct marketing, ask yourself a couple questions. Can your potential customers buy something more current and less expensive from your competitors? Will the title’s pricing structure support the discount you intend to offer?

The Target Market

Make sure your list is cleaned (old names eliminated) regularly. Segment your customer list by those who have purchased recently, those who purchase frequently, and by the dollar value of their orders. Each group will be receptive to different offers.

The Special Offer

The most important part of your direct-mail package is not your title, but the special offer that surrounds it. There are some basic propositions you can use by themselves or in various combinations, depending on your objectives:

1. Free information. Tell people that when they send for a copy of your book, they will also receive a special report or some other free, useful information. You can also direct people to your Web site for answers to frequently asked questions.

2. Samples. If you are selling booklets or other low-cost items, a sample will show people the level of information and quality they may expect when purchasing from you. Perhaps making an excerpt available on your Web site will accomplish the same result.

3. Conditional sale. If you are selling a subscription to your newsletter, you could offer an issue of it for free if the prospect agrees to a one-year subscription.

4. Time limit. Setting a time limit on a given offer forces action, either positive or negative. Usually it is more effective to name a specific date rather than a time period.

5. Discounts. A discount is a popular lure and is particularly effective when the value of your book is well established. Three types of discounts are typically offered: (1) for cash, (2) for an introductory order, or (3) for volume purchases. Not only is the discount itself important, but also the manner in which it is presented can have an equally dramatic effect. For example, here are three ways to state the same proposition:

1. Half price!

2. Buy one, get one free!

3. 50% off!

Which of these do you think would be most effective? The one most likely to draw a higher response is Number 2—”Buy one, get one free!”—because of the power of the word free.

6. Load-up. This is a favorite of publishers of continuity series. For example, you would offer a set of 12 books, one to be released each month. After the customer has received and paid for the first three books, you would invite him or her to receive the remaining nine all in one shipment with the understanding that payments may continue to be made monthly.

7. Free gift. The most important criteria for gift selection are: (1) the appropriateness of the gift, (2) its effect on repeat business, and (3) net profit per thousand including the cost of the gift.

8. Advance payment. If you want the customer to order with a credit card or to send a check with the order, you could offer an incentive for doing so.

9. Deluxe alternatives. Give the customer a choice between your perfect-bound book and your special leather-bound edition. An autographed copy could be considered a deluxe alternative too.

10. Offer a guarantee. The words satisfaction guaranteed are at the heart of all mail-order selling.

The Format

The standard format for direct mail is a three-piece package consisting of a cover letter describing the offer, a brochure, and a reply mechanism.

The Test

Before you embark on a nationwide mailing, test on a smaller scale your selection of titles, the list you will use, the offer you will make, and different formats you plan to choose. Also test the timing of your mailing.

The Analysis

Before you conduct your direct-mail campaign, make sure it will be profitable for you. Calculate the cost of the mailing to make the offer, plus the cost of sending the book in response to an order.

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