Rule of thumb: Sending the exact same piece to the same list approximately 8 to 10 weeks after the initial mailing usually generates 40% to 60% of the original response.

How to make the decision: Say you need a 1% response to be profitable. Your initial mailing generates 4%. Half of that would be 2% — double the response you need. So, yes, you can safely mail the same piece again.

Can you mail it a second time? Again, yes. Remember, your goal is 1% or higher. You got 2% on the second mailing. Therefore, sending the piece to the same list a third time a couple of months later will likely generate around 1%.

Result: You get three profitable mailings while having to write and design only one mailing piece!

How do you re-mail a successful piece? You can send it exactly the way it went out the first time — no need to make any changes. However, another strategy that works well is to add a special message on each subsequent re-mailing. The theme of the message should be something like “I’m sending this in case you missed it the first time” ? “Second notice” ? “This is your last chance” ? “Deadline extended until August 1” ? you get the idea.

This could be done with a note printed in “fake” handwriting (blue ink) at the top right corner of page one of the sales letter ? or a Post-It affixed to the original mailing in the same place.

One mailer enclosed the entire original mailing in a new, larger outer envelope with a one-page cover letter urging the reader to pay attention to the package this time.

Now, what about the opposite situation? You send out a mailing you think is great, and it falls flat on its face.

Well, if it’s a product launch and the best package you could create doesn’t come even close to break-even, the problem is probably the product, not the promotion. Simply put, the product is a bad idea. Whatever you’re selling won’t work with the audience you’re trying to sell it to.

Should you try again with the same piece or same idea? Probably not. In direct mail, it’s usually best to cut your losses early. If an idea isn’t working, find another that will. But don’t throw away more good money on a bad idea.

Also, be realistic when assessing the negative effects of time- and event-based depressions on your mailing results. Yes, an event like 9/11, a stock market crash, or a hurricane can lower your response rates — but all the way to zero?

If competitors are still doing a decent level of business despite the setback and your response is nil, you can’t blame the economy, the environment, or the market. There’s a deeper flaw in your mailing — and sending it out again at a better time will not likely rectify it.

Study your list results. If just one or two lists pulled a halfway decent response — even though, overall, the mailing was unprofitable — there may be a glimmer of hope. You may want to retest the winning lists along with additional lists that reach a similar audience.

Test as many lists as possible. Even for business-to-business products appealing to narrow, vertical markets, the best-performing list may outpull the worst-performing list by 5:1 or more — though, on the surface, the lists and the markets they reach appear almost identical.

Perhaps price was the problem. There are some markets that are not price sensitive — but most are. Have you tested enough price points to find whether what you’re asking is what the customer is willing to pay?

And keep in mind that the low price doesn’t always win. A too-low price can create the perception of low value — an impediment to brisk sales.

Copywriter Gary Bencivenga says that a format test — varying the package size and type — can be as effective, or even more effective, than a copy change in lifting response.

If you already know that short copy works best for your offer, test your #10 letter package against a postcard, double-postcard, self-mailer, and other proven short formats. If you already know that long copy works best for you, test your #10 letter package against a #11 or a #14, a 6 x 9, and a jumbo (9 x 12). Also test against a catalog, a magalog, a digest, a tabloid, and a bookalog.

[Ed. Note: Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books). He can be reached at www.bly.com or by e-mail at rwbly@bly.com.]

Bob Bly

Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has been hired as a consultant by such companies as Sony, Chemical Bank, J. Walter Thompson, Westinghouse, and Prentice-Hall. Bob is also the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books), Targeted Public Relations, Selling Your Services, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Keeping Clients Satisfied. A phenomenal public speaker, Bob will share with you how easy it is to start your own business. Whether you’re ready to quit your job or are just looking to make a little money on the side, you’ll want to hear Bob’s advice.

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