Is Direct Mail Marketing Still Effective?

Anyone I talk to always complains about all the junk mail they receive in their US Mail box. I've signed up on web sites to remove myself from junk mailing lists. One of the more famous sites is DMAchoice.org which helps consumers receive the mail they want rather than everything. Direct Mail is different from junk mail because consumers like to receive direct mail. As a marketer, I often wonder what place Direct Mail has in the world of social networking, search engine optimization, and Web 2.0 technologies.

Direct mail is still a vital marketing method for athletic facilities. As a niche market, athletic facilities need to advertise to specific people who are interested in their services. A partial list includes past customers, customers who express interest in activities, and customers currently involved in facility programs. Good programs to promote this way include Learn to Play, Leagues, birthday parties, camps, groups, and clinics.

Many people I talk to think the sure route to getting a good direct mail campaign going is to buy a mailing list for a specific group of people in local zip codes. Getting lists this way will change your direct mail into junk mail since most people aren't interested in a particular sport. Purchased lists do have their place especially when opening a new facility. Commercial mailing lists are unnecessary for direct mail.

Here are a few ways to build your own list of interested consumers:

  • When people sign up for your e-mail list on the web site, also get their physical address for direct mail pieces
  • Have comment cards at the facility, and get both e-mail and physical addresses
  • Registration lists for current programs
  • Former group customers
  • Birthday Party hosts

Keep the lists in a safe place. Lists can become potent marketing tools and managers should safeguard them from people who would give them to the competition.

Once you've generated the list, the next step is to design a catchy brochure, post card or catalog. We usually use a modified version of the brochure used at the athletic facility and we always make sure the piece has professional quality.

Make sure the brochure lists the following:

  • Where
  • When
  • Date & Day
  • Cost
  • Duration
  • Call to Action

A Call to Action simply tells the recipient to sign up, send money, or register NOW!

Back in the day, I spent hours purchasing a bulk mail permit, and then studying the Post Office regulations on how to use bulk mail. Then, frequently, the person at the Post Office interpreted the rules differently. We would fix the mailing and send it out again. Today, we use mail houses. Many are available in any metropolitan market. Some operate on the Internet selling inexpensive full color postcards mailed to your list. A mail house has a relationship with the Post Office, knows how to prepare your piece, and makes sure (for a fee) that your item gets in the mail stream. The price is usually close to the amount the facility pays in labor and transportation if done in-house.

Direct mail going out to an interested audience usually gets a good response. The added impression of a piece of mail in a consumer's box often helps people who are undecided to buy the program or service. Most direct mail campaigns expect a response from 1% to 5% of recipients, but campaigns going to interested people always do better. Usually the pricing is very attractive; and the cost per piece of the mailer including postage is less than the postage charge for a first class letter.

Return on Investment (ROI) is a critically important measure for anything in business. If a mailer costs 15 dollars, the facility should be able to see $16 or more in gross profit (revenue less cost of goods sold). Always track and calculate the benefit of your mailer. If there is no benefit, then review your program, mailer quality, and reliability.

Direct mail still has an important role in drumming up business for any athletic facility. With a little practice, your direct mail program will be an asset to your organization. You, too, can know that great feeling when someone signs up for a class and says I got the mailer at home.

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