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Using Direct Mail for a Direct Advantage

Woman Putting Letter In Mailbox

If you’ve been in business for more than 15 minutes you’re probably thinking: “I need more students—and fast!” But attracting students is hard, and it isn’t the work we thought we’d be doing when we opened our businesses.

I’m here to help you, and I’d like to talk to you about something very exciting: 

Direct mail.

Now I know you’re thinking, “There is nothing exciting about direct mail!” A common thought, but did you know that according to the Data and Marketing Association, up to 90 percent of direct mail gets opened, compared to only 20 to 30 percent of emails? And consider these other statistics:

  • 73 percent of American consumers say they prefer being contacted by brands via direct mail because they can read it whenever they want (Epsilon).
  • 70 percent of consumers say direct mail is more personal than online interactions (Small Business Trends).
  • Direct mail recipients purchased 28 percent more items and spent 28 percent more money than people who didn’t get that piece of direct mail (U.S. Postal Service).

My relationship with direct mail goes back 20 years to the fall of 2001 and the opening of my new music school, Allegro Music & Dance Academy, in Lemont, Illinois. The deadline for an ad in the Yellow Pages (remember those?) had passed and I knew that we had to do something to tell the folks near us that we existed. We settled on a small yellow postcard, mailed to 2,000 homes near our new location.

With only that one bit of advertising, enrollment at my studio grew from zero to 150 students in the first year.

For some inexplicable reason I didn’t use direct mail again for 10 years. But starting in 2011 I added direct mail to the regular marketing schedule for my one music and two music-and-dance academies. After testing many different sizes and mailing formats, we now mail 30,000 to 40,000 pieces twice or three times each year to the four main cities we serve in the Chicago suburbs. Outreach through mailers alone is responsible for more than 20 percent of our new students! Here’s why you should consider direct mail for your studio too.

People in your town do not know you exist.

Our Lockport location has existed as a music education center under different owners for 60 years, but I hear “I’ve lived here for my whole life and didn’t know you were here” all the time. It’s frustrating, but let’s think about it logically: new people arrive in town regularly, others have children and start looking for new activities. You need to introduce (or reintroduce) yourself and convince them that your studio is the best choice.

Mailboxes are empty right now.

Before the pandemic, our mailboxes were much more crowded. The U.S. Postal Service reported in the spring of 2021 that total mail volume fell by nine percent, with marketing mail dropping by 14 percent, compared to 2019. With so many fewer birthday and Christmas cards, it’s easy to use direct mail to get the attention of prospects right in their own home.

Direct mail reinforces your other marketing.

It’s easy to say, “Facebook ads are working just fine for me.” But you will find that several marketing channels can be more effective than just one. Let all your advertising work together to achieve better results.

At Allegro Music & Dance Academy, our direct mail strategy involves:

  • Designing large 12-by-15 inch, full color, two-sided postcards, which we have professionally printed.
  • Mailing those postcards to residents in our area using the USPS’ Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) program.
  • Tracking the results by asking each new prospect how they heard about us.

With this method I have gotten a 2.5-to-1 return on investment (ROI) in the last year. This works well for me, but it’s just one way to do direct mail. You could consider:

  • Hiring a service to handle each piece of the process for you.
  • Purchasing a mailing list instead of using EDDM.
  • Using presort or bulk mail services through the post office.
  • Mailing folded flyers, catalogs, or promotional material in envelopes.
  • Checking out direct mail services like ValPak.

Not sure how to put a mailer together? Here are some crucial tips.

Use great photos. Excellent pictures make a huge difference in getting folks to look at your advertisement. Think high-resolution photos of students having fun at your studio.

Include a “deadline.” You will get more calls in the last two days before the “deadline” runs out than during the entire two previous weeks.

Create an irresistible offer. New customers need a reason to buy now. Consider a substantial discount or a free gift at enrollment.

Timing is important. Mail before peak enrollment times. For us, that’s right after Christmas, during spring enrollment (May), and before fall (August).

Tell them exactly what to do. Statements like “Call us NOW to enroll,” “Email for more info,” or “Visit our website” urge people to act.

Track results by measuring ROI

Most small businesses miss a vital step in growing their business: they don’t track a marketing campaign’s success by calculating the ROI. Many times it doesn’t “feel” like a marketing campaign was successful, but if you do the math you might realize that it was. If you don’t know how, check out the attached worksheet.

Give direct mail a shot—you might be surprised at what it can do.

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