It’s Time For Product Mangers To Go Postal

Product Managers Need To Consider Direct Mail As A Way To Reach Potential Customers
Product Managers Need To Consider Direct Mail As A Way To Reach Potential Customers

How cool is it that we get to live in this all-digital, all-electronic 21st Century? Given all of the tools that a product manger has available to him/her, we should be having no problems getting information on our products out to existing / prospective customers, right? Wrong! Our customers are overloaded and so we’ve got our work cut out for us…

Perhaps this is a good time for us to talk about DM. You know, Direct Mail.

“What?” you scoff. “You mean all that junk that I throw away everyday when I come home and go through my mail?” Yes – that stuff. However, before you go getting on your high horse and telling me that you would never consider besmirching the fine name of your product / brand / company by stooping to using Direct Mail, maybe you should stop and think for just a moment.

Google’s AdSense ads that you see everywhere (including in this blog) are just another form of direct mail and they sure seem to be doing well for the company.

You really don’t care about the people who throw your direct mail pieces away. What you care about is the people who open them and read them. These may be potential buyers who turn into actual customers.

In a world that is overrun with emails, IMs, tweets, etc., there is something strangely comforting in holding in your hand a real piece of advertising material – it somehow makes what’s being pitched all that more real.

If I’ve been able to convince you that direct mail might be a new way to reach out to potential customers that you have not been able to get to consider your product any other way, then the next question out of your mouth should be “how?”

The first rule of fight club is… Oh wait, that’s a different movie. The first rule of direct marketing is that you must not practice deception. All too often it’s easy to get caught up in a numbers game where you’ll do almost anything to get more people to open up your direct mail piece. You’ve seen direct mail that didn’t live up to this standard: they come with the words “You are a lottery winner!” or “Important Information About Your Account” on the outside of an envelope. Don’t do this.

So what’s a product manager to do? Here are 5 tips to help you set up and run a successful direct marketing campaign for your product:

  1. Know Your Mail: Postal mail is good for some things and not good for other things. You need to make sure that the people who are getting your direct mail piece feel that they are getting something that they can use – not just another ad. Remember that we now live in green times and so you don’t want to get in trouble for wasting paper.
  2. Make It Personal: Since we are living in the 21st Century we do have access to databases and opt-in campaigns that can provide us with a lot of information about the people  that we are sending our direct mail to. Make sure that you segment your audience data and send tailored pieces to them.
  3. Keep It Clean: The outside of the envelope that you send your direct mail in is often treated like a side of the road billboard: extra text, a big logo, or all sorts of artwork. Don’t do this! Instead, keep it simple and just include the standards: an address, a return address, and a small logo.
  4. Make Quick Decisions Easy To Make: Assuming that you’ve been able to get your audience to open up your direct mail piece, they’re not going to be willing to spend a lot of time looking through it. Use clear graphics and tight copy to get your message across quickly. This will help your reader to prioritize the importance of what you’ve sent them.
  5. Pick Your Words Carefully: Once again, you’ve entered a minefield here. Certain words have been overused in direct mail (think “free”, think “new”). Pick your words very carefully so that they leave a lasting impression in your customer’s minds while not ticking them off.

Have you ever used direct mail to generate interest in your product? Did you follow these rules or did you violate them? What kind of response rate did you get? Are you planning on using direct mail in the future? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

12 thoughts on “It’s Time For Product Mangers To Go Postal”

  1. We’ll go postal if you keep misspelling “Manager” just to hopefully get more hits. Maybe clever but annoying, gimmicky and unprofessional.

    • Postal: Ok, so here’s how this one works – I’m just simply a bad speller. I wish that I could attribute my repeated misspelling of “Manager” to some sort of clever search engine tactic; however, that’s just not the case. It turns out that neither Firefox nor WordPress seem to be kind enough to produce a red squiggly line on posting titles.

      What this means is that I’ll try to do a better job in the future; however, I’m guessing that I’ll stumble again. I hope that the posting content makes up for the title…!

  2. Dr. Jim, You didn’t tell us…. Have YOU actually used direct mail in your capacity as a product manager? How many times? What response rate did YOU see? For what industry and what type of products? Did you obey your rules? where did you get your mailing list? How much did it cost? How did it compare to web advertising? Tell us more.

    • CPM: Man, I can’t reveal ALL of my product management secrets! I have actually used direct mail in the course of my PM career. I decided to use it as part of a trade up run-up campaign in order build excitement about an otherwise fairly standard product upgrade. We sent out mailings that needed to be retained and brought to the trade show and turned in to be eligible for a prize (a very nice laptop if I recall correctly).

      To answer your questions, we saw about a 30% take rate on this effort which we deemed to be pretty good. Since this was a telecommunications trade show (Supercomm if you must know), we got our mailing list in several different ways: previous conference booth attendees, current customers, people who had signed up for this year’s show, and subscribers to Telephony magazine. MarComm handled the list building, so I’ve got no idea how much it ended up costing us. Oh, and this was before web advertising got hot so that really didn’t count.

  3. Thanks for the information. There seems to be a never ending supply of great information on the net. I love learning new stuff, and will be back to read your posts regularly !! Thanks again 🙂


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