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Creative Marketing Concepts: Secrets of Direct Mail

Fred Gleeck Comments
Posted in Articles, Archive

Direct mail can be an incredibly effective means of promoting your storage facility—if used correctly. Whether it’s a solo promotion of your own device or a co-op arrangement such as the Val-Pak coupon mailer, direct mail should part of your marketing mix for two reasons. First, the majority of your renters come from within a 3- to 5-mile radius, which facilitates the creation of a meaningful mailing list. Second, many businesses can vouch for how well it works.

Some of you may have tried direct mail in the past without success, but timing and execution are everything. Read these direct-mail secrets, and consider giving it another try.

Mailing Lists

Don’t spend money to rent commercial mailing lists. Instead, buy a computer program that contains the national Yellow Pages on CD. It will allow you to sort the information using a variety of criteria, and you can even use it to print mailing labels. Your local software store should carry at least one version of this valuable tool.

If you use an agency to assist with your mailing, beware “the big lie.” Some ad reps will tell you not to worry if you get no response on the first try, that repetition is the answer. This isn’t true in the case of direct-response marketing. If your mailer doesn’t work right away, change one variable at a time and try again. Don’t believe the hype about building brand recognition. This might work for a large company, but not for a small storage operation.

However, this is not to say that you shouldn’t mail to a list more than once. If someone is worth contacting the first time, he’s worth contacting again. If you’ve managed to identify the right target audience, multiple mailings will pay off. Consider collection companies that send a series of letters, each with increasing intensity. You can do the same with your mailings. While mailers No. 2 and 3 combined might not produce as much response as No. 1, they can still be profitable.

Making the Cut

If you’re like me, you open your mail next to a wastebasket, tossing some pieces directly into the “round file” and saving others for closer examination. The first trick of direct mail is to make sure you make it into the “A pile.” A few things will help you clear this first hurdle. For example, research shows that stamped mail has a much higher chance of survival than metered mail. In addition, people are much more apt to open an envelope that is hand-addressed.

Once a piece of mail is opened, there’s another obstacle to overcome. People will only look at your mailing for an average of eight seconds before deciding what to do with it, so you need a strong headline. Every direct-mail letter, postcard or coupon should have one. Its purpose is to get the prospect to keep reading, so emphasize your greatest benefit or offering and make it compelling.

For example, if you’re targeting commercial tenants, your facility’s most attractive benefit might be that storage helps them organize inventory and prevent the waste of expensive office space. Your headline might read, “Reduce Your Rent by 13%!” Any business owner will be curious to learn how. Once you’ve caught his eye, keep him interested. (Note: Don’t put the headline in all caps, as it’s more difficult to read.)

Some readers will merely skim your direct-mail piece, so you must give them a way to rapidly get the gist of your message. Subheads will help. Your reader should have a full understanding of the mailer’s content by quickly scanning the headline and bold areas. Also, every letter must have a postscript. Next to the headline, it’s the most highly read part of the mailer.

Your direct-mail piece should quickly answer the reader’s question, “What’s in it for me?” You need to convince him you have the cure for what ails him. Don’t use the piece to talk about your company—at least, not at first. Save that for after you’ve appealed to the prospect’s interest. Write your direct-mail piece from the perspective of your target customer, basing it on his wants and needs. That’s why he’ll read it.

Simple and Friendly

Write your piece as if you’re addressing a single person—the reader—and keep your text simple and friendly. Don’t be afraid to use the local vernacular. In some cases, the more grammatically correct you try to make your writing, the less effective it will be.

The goal of your piece isn’t to get a good grade from your English teacher; it’s to get people to read what you have to offer. You want to sound like a real person with whom they can relate. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t proofread your work—after all, first impressions are important. But it won’t hurt to be a little informal and use the jargon of your target audience.

Two-Step Process

Don’t try to sell storage in a single step. Your direct-mail piece alone will probably not be enough to sell space, so why not use it to direct readers to your storage hotline or website? People are skeptical, and they often need to do things in small steps. Convincing them to call an anonymous 800 number or visit you online is far less threatening than asking them to call or visit you directly. And the bac-up resource will lend you even greater credibility. It’s always a good approach to inform first and sell second.

The Swipe File

Why reinvent the wheel? Watch what works for other companies and imitate it. I call it creative stealing. Look at every piece of direct mail you receive and make note of what you like and dislike about it. Surprisingly, the ones you receive most often are the ones that work—that’s why companies keeps using them. Keep a file of these pieces and refer to them when you create your own. It’s always best to swipe ideas that actually work!

Gauging Effectiveness

A few years ago, as a sort of test, I did a mailing in which each of three groups received a different letter. The only problem was I didn’t code the accompanying order sheets, which meant I had no way of knowing which letter got the most response. When you do a mailing, simply put a small code somewhere on the piece and keep a hard copy of the original on file. Ask every customer where he heard about you. If it was direct mail, ask him for the code. This way, you’ll always know which pieces worked.

When it comes to the efficacy of direct mail, no one is clairvoyant. Some mailings will get zero response while others pull a 40 percent success rate. It all depends on the strength of the offer and the hungriness of the audience. The only real way to know the potential of direct mail is to do a test before the official roll-out. Mail to just a portion of your list first and see what kind of response you get.

If you could visit every potential customer within 5 miles of your storage facility and tell him about your features and benefits, what would it be worth? That is the value of direct mail. When correctly executed, this method can be cost-effective and mean a great boost for your business.

Fred Gleeck is a self-storage coach and consultant who helps owners and operators maximize profit. He is an expert in the field of information and seminar marketing and the author of more than 10 books. To learn more about new marketing ideas revealed only in his live events, visit For more information, call 800.345.3325; e-mail; visit To subscribe to Mr. Gleeck’s e-zine, send an e-mail to

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