By Tracy Morin
In an age where email inboxes are flooded with junk and actual mailboxes receive little action, direct mail marketing remains highly effective. In 2019, Mail Shark published some impressive stats: “House lists boast a 9% response rate on average, while prospect lists receive an average response rate of 5%….a 173% increase since 2006 for house lists and a 194% increase since 2006 for prospect lists.” And that dwarfs the success rate of digital spending, with methods like email, paid search and social media offering just a 1% return. Here, experts discuss the benefits of this “old-school” marketing approach—and how to best make it work for you.
Direct Mail Benefits
Darren Easton, VP and creative director at The Cyphers Agency in Crofton, Maryland, notes that direct mail offers a variety of upsides. First, it allows operators to hyper-target, selecting a specific audience within a specific geographic area based on variables such as residential versus business address, age, household size and income.
Stefano Fabbri, owner of Phoenix-based Pomo Restaurant Group—which oversees concepts including Pomo Pizzeria, Pomo Pizza, Mora Italian, The Americano and Meat the Ball—has tapped into this benefit for his brands. “Direct mail allows us to highly target potential customers based on their area code,” Fabbri says. “We can also personalize direct mail to offer incentives or deals and highlight events or new menu items.”
Moreover, Easton notes, direct mail is an affordable, easy and flexible solution for operators. “For example, the U.S. Postal Service’s Every Door Direct Mail service is very easy to use, allowing you to select and consider the costs of mailing to as many mail routes as you want before making your investment,” he says. “But because you can mail to as few as 200 addresses (at $0.191 per piece, plus postage), you can monitor engagement/success over time and act accordingly.” In addition, you can choose the day of the week you’d like your mailer to arrive—Easton suggests Saturday—and all you have to do is drop them off at your local post office.
Offers and Design
An eye-catching design and the right offers will help boost response rates. “Because you don’t know which side someone is going to see, make sure both sides incorporate key elements and include a strong message, even if it’s repetitive—just come up with a new way to say it,” Easton recommends. A piece can be 10.5” to 15” long, 6.125” to 12” wide, and ¼” to ¾” thick, he notes. “And, because you have plenty of freedom regarding your mailer’s size and a large amount of surface area to work with on its front and back, you have the opportunity to incorporate key elements of your messaging.”
Easton believes mailers should include: bright colors, a bold font, large and different font sizes, and high-quality graphics; your logo and key message on both sides; an image of the location and primary product, plus opening hours and address; website and social networks; and details on specials or promo offers.
When Fabbri sends out direct mail, he thinks it’s important to work with a graphic designer to make it as visually pleasing as possible for the targeted customer. “Always make sure you are within your brand standards and have high-resolution photos available of the food,” he says. “If you are doing a special offer, it needs to be simple enough to not confuse the recipient about what you are offering. Encourage them to bring in the flier upon dining, so you can track how the direct mail campaign is doing.”
Easton adds that new pizzeria locations can benefit from direct mail (for example, a standard postcard that simply announces your restaurant is coming soon, opening or now open, or to announce you’re hosting a ribbon cutting or grand opening). But he has also found these additional formats to be successful at generating post-opening engagement:
- Menu mailings. Menu mailings are a tried-and-true method, since many consumers will keep the menu for reference rather than tossing it out with the rest of the “junk mail”—and this is especially true if you send it in the format of a fridge magnet. In addition, a mailer with a coupon or special offer not only increases top-of-mind awareness but can provide a lift in orders immediately following the mailing.
- Special occasion mailers. Higher-end restaurants may consider direct mail as cheap or off-brand, but special occasion mailers can be highly effective if the right design and offer are used. These direct mail postcards can be sent out with a “gift” offer around the consumer’s birthday or anniversary. Focusing on the special occasion and offering a “gift” rather than a traditional promotion or coupon makes the recipient feel special and produces strong redemption rates.
- Business mailers. While residential mailers make sense for the home consumer, fast-casual or high-volume delivery brands should also consider using direct mail to reach local professionals near the restaurant. Some ideas include sending mailers with a congratulatory note and an offer for a free dessert or appetizer, a catering order discount, or a gift card to audiences including new businesses in the area, businesses that have reached a noteworthy anniversary, or even specific individuals who have recently had a title change or promotion shared on LinkedIn. If you personalize the message and design the piece in an eye-catching way, these mailers can really stand out among the usual suspects in the office mail pile.
Finally, you can use direct mail to target new movers. Obviously, those who are new in town will need a go-to pizzeria—why not make it yours? “New movers are the perfect recipients for direct mail,” Fabbri says. “When moving to a different area, many people are looking for restaurant recommendations in their new neighborhood. This is why it’s important that your direct mail campaign encourages a community feel—if you’re a local restaurant, this is a perfect opportunity to highlight that.”
When measuring ROI, Easton notes that it’s most important to develop offers that are unique to the direct mail campaign and integrate them into your POS system. “While this requires significant work on the front end, developing a code that has to be entered into the POS system ensures that every use of the promotion is tracked, and you don’t need to rely on staff collecting and retaining hard copies of the direct mail pieces,” Easton explains. He offers some additional tips to make your direct mail campaign as cost-effective as possible:
- Avoid one-and-dones. Frequency is the name of the game when it comes to direct mail, so it’s dangerous to send one and then cut off the campaign if no immediate results are obvious. It takes patience, but it’s important to develop a plan for several direct mail drops and stick with it before you deem it a failure.
- Evolve before you abandon. If you’ve built frequency into your plan, you’ll be able to modify the offers that aren’t working and double-down on the offers that are. You can also tweak the mailing area or targeting. As long as you track your variables, you can discover the “secret sauce” to your highest-ROI direct mail effort.
- Create a mailer template and print at volume. Taking your hard costs into account, it’s valuable to work with a design team to create a mailer that you’re happy with from the start—this will allow you to quickly and continuously update your messaging and offers without incurring many hours of work. It’s also valuable to print at a high volume, even if you want to send your mailers in waves, because this can lead to significant savings.
Of course, you will also want to turn those first-time customers into regular customers, so Easton believes it’s essential to incorporate social media marketing into your direct mail efforts. “One of the best ways to do this is promoting your social channels on the mailers themselves, perhaps asking the recipient to like and follow you for the chance to win a prize or receive an additional promo,” he says. “By doing this, the recipient will go from simply knowing that you exist to seeing you and your marketing messages on a weekly or even daily basis.”
Finally, Fabbri suggests, make sure those customers have the most seamless dining experience possible via your staff members. “Always let your servers know when you are starting a direct mail campaign so they are aware of how diners can redeem the deal,” he says. “It’s important to train your staff so they know that this is the opportunity to have your new guests turn into regulars.”
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.