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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the February 5, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Direct Mail’s Magic

What is the very best piece of direct mail you can send?

No, it’s not a four-color postcard offering a free massage, or a


letter promising wealth beyond imagining. It’s the type of missive

your mother started hounding you to send as soon as you could clutch

a pencil.

"The most effective piece of direct mail is a thank-you


says Jeff Dobkin, owner of a Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania,


company specializing in direct mail (, and the author

of How to Market a Product for Under $500. While unexpected, his


sounds right-on logical. What client expects an out-of-the-blue


letter, a simple expression of gratitude asking for nothing at all?

The novelty value alone separates this direct mail campaign from the

mountains of envelopes every business receives every day.

Dobkin speaks on "How to Double Your Mailing Response" on

Tuesday, February 11, at 11:30 a.m., when he addresses New Jersey

CAMA at the Doral Forrestal in Princeton. Cost: $45. Call


Dobkin backed into a career in marketing. After graduating from


College he invented a product — a burglar alarm for motorcycles

— and set about marketing it himself, reading every marketing

book he could lay his hands on. After he sold the burglar alarm


he set up an advertising and marketing agency. He had always enjoyed

writing, and taught himself the graphics end of the business.

"I had all kinds of clients," he says. "I did all kinds

of advertising and marketing for 10 years." Then the Mac computer

came out. Suddenly, he recounts, clients began doubting his role:

"Why do I need Dobkin? He only used one or two typefaces. I have

300 on my computer!"

Dobkin recalls the period immediately post-Mac as one of amazingly

ugly ads, but at the time he had little inclination to fight his


childlike joy in creating their own multi-color, multi-typeface,


filled advertisements. He devoted himself to direct marketing, a form

of advertising he had always liked anyway. "With direct mail,"

he says, "you get attribution." If the campaign works, the

results are apparent right away, and are easy to quantify — 10

responses per 100 mailings; four sales appointments; and two sales,

for example.

As much as Dobkin likes direct mail, he stresses that there are some

ways to use it that are better than others, and some strategies that

keep the mailings out of the circular file:

Mail during the winter. "If it’s an 85 degree day

in May, are you going to be reading mail?" asks Dobkin. And if

May — with its fragrant blossoms and novel, warm sun — is

a poor month to be sending out solicitations by mail, June, July,

and August are worse. In those months vacations join glorious weather

as reasons to neglect all non-essential mail. December, with its rush

of parties and shopping, isn’t great either.

The best time to send out a mailing is the season when the weather

is so bleak that nearly any letter looks like an entertainment


In short, now. Or better yet, February. Or even March, with its nasty


Aim for Tuesdays. You don’t want your direct mail to hit

on a Monday. Mail travels on weekends, there are no deliveries on

Sunday, and volume is highest on Monday. Dobkin uses a post office

box, and has observed this pattern over a number of years. He has

also observed that the fewest number of letters arrive on a Tuesday.

Add to light volume the fact that Tuesday is not normally crammed

with interesting social events, and it is easy to see why he suggests

aiming for a Tuesday delivery for direct mail.

Wednesday is the second-best day for direct mail delivery, and


is good too," says Dobkin.

Mail to people you know. The most effective direct mail

is sent to clients with whom your company has a relationship. It is

possible to purchase mailing lists, but it is better to compile your

own, including clients, individuals met at trade fairs, and anyone

who has expressed an interest in your product — or one like it.

Send six to seven letters. Just one letter might be all

right if it is sent to a highly-targeted audience. But often, one

mailing is not enough to grab your prospects’ attention. One hundred

letters, on the other hand, would be overkill and a waste of


If a prospect shows no interest after six or seven letters, chances

are that he never will. Forget him and move on.

Make the letters build on one another. Don’t just send

the same offer again and again. Create six or seven different letters,

each building on the one before it. The first might be an


the second a description of a product, the third an invitation to

an event, and so on. Each letter should refer to the one that preceded


While sending a letter to qualified prospects works well in

business-to-business situations, especially where the universe of

potential clients is small, this approach will not work for a consumer

business trying to get the word out to a large audience.

If you are opening a French restaurant, for instance, the most


form of direct mail could be a press release. Instead of trying to

reach every prospective customer directly, create a compelling news

release and hope that your local news outlets do the job for you.

And although it’s not required — and certainly not expected —

consider dropping your radio station a thank you note if it runs an

announcement of your opening.

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