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  1. 1. How to Use Direct Mail to Drive Web Traffic and Get More Inquiries By Ralph Elliott, Ph.D. Even though postage costs continue to increase, many seminar/conference providers still use direct mail as an effective tool for increasing attendance at program offerings. Direct mail can be effective in two ways: (1) to generate inquiries for seminars and conferences and (2) to encourage past customers to return for additional programs. The purpose of this article is to show you how to use direct mail for generating inquiries. An inquiry generator is exactly what it says… a tool and/or strategy to generate inquiries for a provider’s seminars and conferences. Take a look at the pyramid in Figure One. As you can see, prospects and suspects are at the bottom of the pyramid; inquiries and leads are midway up; and at the top of the pyramid, are customers and clients. The purpose of the inquiry generator is to convert prospects and suspects into inquiries or leads. Sometimes this inquiry-generation process is called two-step marketing. Step one is to convert the prospect into an inquiry, and step two is to convert the inquiry into a customer. Envelope and Cover Letter As an Inquiry Generator Take a look at Figure Two, where you will find an envelope used by Northwestern University to generate inquiries for its professional development, graduate, and undergraduate programs. Envelopes are an important component of a successful inquiry generator, and providers should keep in mind a number of pointers when designing them. First of all, providers should use a window envelope so that the enclosed letter and its inside address show through the window. People often perceive window envelopes as having an invoice or a check; therefore, they are much more likely to open them than non-window variations. Next, the envelope must contain a credible return address. Notice in the Northwestern example the University has its logo or brand on the return address as well as the name of the unit within the University producing the inquiry generator. In some instances, providers will include the name of a
  2. 2. person in the return address so as to give the impression that an individual personally mailed the envelope. Next, one has to be careful about the postage used on a direct-mail envelope inquiry generator. First of all, a provider should avoid using an indicia. By preprinting an indicia on the envelope, a provider is signaling to the recipient the promotion has been “mass produced” and therefore is potentially “junk mail.” Providers should always meter the postage onto envelope inquiry generators. To keep postage costs low, a provider might use low-cost “standard mail” postage. Standard-mail postage (formally called bulk-rate postage) is substantially less than first-class postage. By metering the standard-mail postage, a provider gives the impression the envelope is mailed first class even though it is not. Generally, a red meter is better than blue. Keep in mind recipients typically look at three primary screening tools when evaluating an envelope. First, they look at the window to see if their name is spelled correctly. Second, they check the name of the organization sending the information (the return address). Third, recipients check the postage used. Of course, another option is to use a “live stamp.” The stamp might be standard mail, or it can be regular first-class. Many providers have had success with “standard-mail” stamps. Generally speaking, a live stamp will outperform the metered postage, and the metered postage will outperform the bulk indicia. A good compromise among these options is to use the metered postage on the envelope promotion. Another point to consider when designing envelopes for inquiry generation is the effectiveness of “headlines.” Headlines on an envelope are like the subject line on an email blast. The purpose of the headline is to tell the person what is inside and should encourage the person to “open” the envelope. Notice in the Northwestern example the University is offering a free catalog as an inducement to open the envelope and read the enclosed letter. The headline is enhanced by photographs of the catalog. Generally speaking, providers find that headlines on an envelope work better for business- to-consumer (B to C) mailings than for business-to-business (B to B). Therefore, a provider needs to evaluate carefully the market segments being mailed. Recipients might use a poorly composed headline as a “screening device” and once again perceive the promotional package as “junk mail.” While the envelope must entice the recipient to open the inquiry generator, the cover letter included inside must sell or motivate action. As seen in Figure Three, Northwestern University uses a one- page cover letter, the length typically having the best draw. This Northwestern example illustrates the desirable attributes of a successful cover letter. Fig 3
  3. 3. First, the letter is personalized to the prospect. Personalizing the letter significantly increases the probability that the message will be read. Of course, the personalized inside address shows through the window envelope, with the personalization strategy thus providing two benefits: (1) while the letter is still in the envelope and (2) once the recipient reviews the contents. The personalization effect can be somewhat diminished by the postal sortation codes underneath the recipient’s address. By adding these bar codes, Northwestern was able to get the lowest possible postage cost; however, having the bar codes for carrier sorting takes away from the aura of personalization created by the envelope and the letter as a whole. Next, take a look at the VIP code both in the upper right-hand corner and at the end of the letter. Often called a key code among direct marketing professionals, the VIP code is actually a tracking device that tells the provider which mailing list/s produced the inquiry. Mailing lists and databases will be discussed in a later article; however, note at this point a provider typically tests several different mailing lists during a direct-mail marketing campaign. Each list has a different VIP code; hence when inquiries are produced, they can be traced back to the list or lists that produced the response. By this “tracking process,” a provider can see which lists are performing best and consider reusing the most productive file or files. In the example shown, the VIP code also plays another role. It facilitates the recipient’s inquiry process when directed to go to the University’s webpage or website. As seen in Figure Four, Northwestern created a special screen on its website for visitors to enter their VIP codes. Once the VIP code is entered into the system and the visitor presses enter, he/she is taken to a new screen where the address information has been pre-populated into the response form. In other words, entering the VIP code allows the respondent to have his/her contact details automatically filled in on a form, thus saving time and effort. Figure 4: Using the VIP Code Northwestern pre-populated the response form by archiving and classifying the names used in the promotion by VIP code. Thus, when a recipient responded by entering the VIP code, the landing- page form was automatically populated with the archived information. An example of the pre- populated form is shown in Figure Five. The form contains the person’s name and address, typically the amount of the information archived. The visitor has to supply only his/her telephone number and email address, which, as indicated in Figure Five, are part of the required information. Figure 5: The VIP Number Pre-Populates the Form
  4. 4. In addition to the VIP code in the upper right-hand corner of the cover letter, note in the Northwestern example the reproduction of the free catalog and brochures seen on the envelope. As noted earlier, providing visual examples of what the person will receive is particularly effective in B- to-C marketing versus B-to-B marketing. In a B-to-B marketing environment, a provider would, as a rule, use a less “cluttered” look. Another pointer about the cover letter is the use of a PS. Many providers feel the PS is the most important or powerful part of a sales letter. Typically, a recipient looks at the top to see the name of the organization sending the communication. Next, the recipient’s eye goes to the bottom to discover the name of the individual writing the letter. At this point, he/she should see the PS. The purpose of the PS is to “grab” the reader’s attention and encourage him/her to go back and read the full letter. Or the PS can create a sense of urgency by offering a special incentive to respond (in this case, log on and fill in the VIP code). In the example shown, the PS offers the recipient the option of calling or emailing his/her request. As a rule, providing response options is always a good idea. In some cases, a recipient may not want to go online and enter a VIP code. He or she may prefer to talk to an individual. Or a recipient may simply want to email the request. Finally, a legible signature on the cover letter is important. Recipients tend to get upset if they cannot read the handwriting of the writer. Also, the writer should consider using blue ink as most studies show that a signature in blue ink out performs a signature in black. Self-mailer As an Inquiry Generator An alternative to the envelope and cover letter is a self-mailer for inquiry generation. Figures Six and Seven show a self-mailer used by the University of Phoenix. The package is called a self-mailer because it does not go into an envelope. In the example shown, a number of qualities or attributes recommend the package and increase its responsiveness. Figure 6
  5. 5. First of all, the direct-mail package contains a “piggyback” label, which the recipient can peel off and place on the response device (Figure Seven). Also, the business response card is self-addressed and has postage paid. Combining the piggyback label with a self-addressed, postage-paid business reply card makes responding easy. Figure 7 The size, the graphics, and the quality of paper used on the promotional package also recommend its use as a direct self-mailer. All of these variables help to convey an image of quality and prestige for the University of Phoenix. In addition to the piggyback label, the University of Phoenix also offers several other response options to recipients… telephone, fax, as well as direct visits to a landing page at the web site. A landing page is typically the first screen a visitor sees when he or she enters the URL listed on a promotion. In Figure Eight, you can see an example of a University of Phoenix landing page. When a visitor arrives at the University’s web site, a pop-up screen allows visitors to supply the requested information. Essentially, visitors are encouraged to join the database before receiving information at the website. Figure 8: Get Visitors Right  into the Data Base 
  6. 6. In Figure Nine, The University of Phoenix asks visitors to supply more detailed information than did Northwestern University in the earlier example. Of course, Northwestern was selling/promoting a number of non-credit seminars and conferences; the University of Phoenix is marketing and selling degree programs. When selling degree programs, a provider typically wants to capture more information so that it can better advise the prospect on the most appropriate course of study. Figure 9: A Second Screen to Capture  More Detailed Information   Also, a detailed or somewhat complicated landing page that takes time to complete is a good “screening” device to determine the earnestness of a prospect’s desire to take courses or programs. Recipients who fill out a multi-screen landing page are likely to be much more highly qualified than visitors who provide only name and email address. One might ask which is more effective—the self-mailer or the envelope and cover letter. The easy answer is to recommend a provider test an envelope direct-mail package versus a self-mailer. In such a test, a mailing list is divided by odd/even zip codes, and half of the list receives the envelope, and the other half receives a self-mailer. Essentially, the data decides which package performs better. Generally speaking, envelope mailings outperform the self-mailer. Therefore, a provider may want to start with an envelope direct-mail package as part of his/her inquiry generation initiative. Economics of Inquiry Generation Whether the provider uses the self-mailer or the envelope and cover letter, direct mail is a powerful tool for inquiry generation. But what are the economics? Let’s do the numbers. The assumption in Figure Ten is that the cost of mailing an inquiry generator is around 50 cents per package or $500 for a thousand (this assumes standard-mail postage cost). Typically, the response rate on an inquiry generator is between 2% and 10%. Assuming a 5% response rate, a provider would receive 50 inquiries per thousand envelopes or self-mailers. $500 per thousand divided by the 50 inquiries yields a cost per inquiry of $10. Figure 10: Economics of Inquiry  Assume $500 for 1,000 mailings • Assume 5% response rate  • Therefore, 50 inquiries per 1,000  • So, $500/50 = $10 per inquiry   • Assume 10% of the inquiries convert  • So 5 become customers  • Final cost is $500/5 = $100 per customer  •
  7. 7. Now let’s assume that 10% or five of the inquiries become customers. Dividing the five customers into the initial cost of $500 yields a cost per customer of $100. Is the $100 per customer too much or too little to pay? The answer to this question depends upon the price of the program or courses. As will be discussed in later articles, providers typically budget around 20% of their anticipated seminar/conference revenue on marketing and promotion. In this case, if a provider is selling a seminar or conference for $500, the marketing cost would be 20% of 500; therefore, the cost-per- customer would be in alignment with the revenue-per-customer. Naturally, if the price of the seminar or conference were much higher, then the economics of direct mail inquiry generation would become even more appealing. Ralph Elliott, world-renowned event marketing expert and creator of the “Effective Seminar/Conference Marketing” workshop. Contact him at, call 864.710.2815 or to view upcoming seminar dates, go to © Ralph Elliott, 2008 JOIN Elliott's Seminar/Conference Marketing List Serv