email strategy

Email and Direct Mail

6 Strategies for Profitable Email and Direct Marketing Campaigns

Ask anyone in sales what they could use most and the resounding answer will be “more customers.” It’s easier than it seems and simply requires some insight into your audience, as well as measurable objectives to continue fine-tuning your campaign for better and better results.

The following guide will help you take advantage of seldom used, but extremely effective strategies to get the most out of your email and direct mailing campaigns.

Quick Overview

  1. Campaign success metrics should always tie into bigger business objectives. They should also help you maximize your list effectiveness by nurturing prospects that aren’t ready to convert right away.
  2. Study your best and most profitable customers to help segment direct marketing activities. This will help you reach hot prospects quickly and nurture others to become warmer leads at a later point in time.
  3. Create a process that tests various aspects of the marketing piece, either via email or direct mail. Make sure that the piece targets messages to the right people at the optimal time. This way, the best campaign is put in front of your audience.
  4. Build a list in one of two ways – do it yourself or purchase a high-quality list. Doing it yourself requires an investment of time. Buying a list is more efficient, more effective, and can help jumpstart your direct marketing efforts.
  5. Know where your audience is within the sales process. Prepare a campaign that resonates with your audience and reflects the objectives of your campaign. Bonus points for a combination of low-risk actions (e.g. liking a Facebook page or becoming a Twitter follower), high-value user actions (e.g. subscribing to a newsletter, signing up for a webinar), and conversion calls-to-action. Don’t forget the P.S. or special bonus message at the end of your mailing piece as this helps to see who reads your messages in its entirety, helping better understand which subscribers are the most valuable to you!
  6. Study the data post-campaign to learn how to leverage what’s working, enhance what isn’t working optimally, and glean insights into what kinds of content and messages most resonate with your audience.

STEP ONE: Define Measurable Objectives

Long before you start a direct marketing campaign, the goals or objectives of the campaign should be clearly established and should be closely tied to bigger business goals.

For example: If the business goal is to increase revenue by 30% through new customers, then an example of the direct marketing campaign objectives could be used to generate 100 new leads per month and ensure that those leads generate 40 sales within the following 90 days.

Those big business objectives also have to translate into numbers that help you learn what you did right and where improvements can be made, however, so that knowledge can be applied to future campaigns. The more you know about your campaign, the better you will be at identifying areas that can be improved upon as well as big wins that can be applied to the next piece that goes out to your email or mailing list. Additionally, you will identify the most lucrative, but often forgotten aspect of your mailing list – prospects that aren’t ready now, but will be in the future.

To help identify and establish a grading system for measuring your campaign performance, consider the following aspects of interaction with your content:

  • Low-risk user actions
    When someone engages with content by sharing it or tagging your brand in social media, this is considered a low-risk user action because they don’t have to disclose personal details with you to be able to interact with your messages and brand. Measures of success may include mentions, shares, pins, likes, comments, downloads, etc.
  • Engagement
    Content engagement occurs when someone takes a specific action that indicates interest. The number of clicks or calls that a specific article or promotional offer receives are examples of engagement success measures.
  • High-value user actions
    High-value user actions help identify people who have a very strong interest in what you do, sell, make, or offer. Enough interest indicates that they are willing to give up some personal details. Some examples of high-value user action measures of success include the number of new subscribers, bookings, registrations, form completions, or phone calls. It is during this phase that a lead may be generated, but it may also be that someone needs to be nurtured over time with targeted follow-up campaigns to become a quality lead.
  • Conversions
    Conversions are actions that people take that help to identify serious inquiries or new customers. Examples of conversion success measures are the number of appointments set, the number of times a coupon or promotional code is used, and the number of sales generated.

STEP TWO: Know Your Target Audience

Now that you’ve been able to identify the criteria that determine the success of your campaign, it’s time to narrow down just who you want to reach.

It may be simple to identify broad audience details such as wanting to work with businesses or consumers, but it can be a harder task to drill down and segment your audience to leverage marketing campaigns.

First, start by identifying who you want to reach. For example, you want to reach homeowners who are interested in remodeling, or you want to reach businesses that could benefit from commercial cleaning services. Next, take a moment to consider your best, most profitable customers who fall into your target audience. What do your most profitable customers have in common?

Some ideas you may want to investigate include:

Consumers Businesses
Location Where do they reside? Where are they located?
Demographics What’s their age? Gender? Marital status? Education? What industry are they in? How many employees do they have?
Longevity How long have they lived in their current residence? How long have they been in business?
Finances What’s their annual income? What’s their annual revenue?
Credit What’s their credit score? What’s their credit rating?
Who is the primary decision-maker Are they male or female? What’s their title?
Other Do they own or rent? Do they have a website?

As you consider your list, look at how it can be broken down into segments. This will help you find and qualify the contacts on your list, making for a better direct marketing campaign right out of the gate.

STEP THREE: Design a Process

As mentioned in Step Two, understanding details specific to your audience provides insights about how to reach the right people, but the next step is the exciting part of creating an email or direct marketing campaign. In this step, you should be ready to put together a process so that your email or direct marketing piece has the content needed to connect with your audience.

Think about it like this: To get consistent results, you must use consistent ingredients. There’s a reason your favorite soft drink tastes virtually the same whether you’re in Genoa, Illinois or Genoa, Italy – the secret is in the recipe. For your “secret sauce,” you need to create a process that will serve as a direct marketing recipe going forward.

Here are some tips for optimal results:

  • Understand that there are different entry points where people will connect with your brand. Sometimes they may be searching for answers to problems. In other situations, it may be that they stumble upon your content. Or, they may have been interacting with you on social media, but are now ready to dig a little deeper into your offerings.
  • Develop quality content for your campaign that is engaging and interesting. Make sure that the content connects with what the recipient has the most interest in receiving from you at the point that they are within your marketing funnel. Information seekers will want different content than someone who has been following your company or brand on social media and needs a demonstration or trial of your product.
  • Review your database management and ensure that you have the right leads targeted based upon the objectives of your campaign. Again, think about the connecting points you have with your ideal customer and how that translates to where someone might be in the sales cycle. Brand new customers may need to be nurtured over time, another who has been receiving information from you for a time may be ready to evaluate, and yet another who has already evalutated the product/service may be ready to buy. When you group an audience by where they are in the sales cycle, you can better target the message to reach the right people at the right time with the right message.
  • Verify that you do have the option for those leads to opt-in or unsubscribe. In other words, present opportunities for those new to your mailing lists to opt-out from receiving them or to demonstrate through an action that they have specific interests.
  • Use leverage tools, such as Usability Hub to fine-tune your design and calls to action. While Usability Hub is typically used for HTML email campaigns and website design, it can be a great testing tool to test layout, design, colors, and messages on direct mailing and printed pieces as well! Test different variations of your design to identify which combinations work best together. For example, does a specific color when combined with a specific call to action increase your phone calls, click-throughs, or purchases?
  • Encourage the “open” of the email by testing subject lines using tools like Subject Line Gold. The open, especially in email campaigns, is the difference between your message being read or being deleted. Take the time to test subject lines to improve the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns.
  • Use the groups you have established (so you know what messages will most resonate with which groups within your audience) and test your campaign with a small group of actual people on your mailing list before launching to the complete list. For example, instead of sending out 3,000 emails of the same message, try testing 500 of version A and 500 of version B to see which gets the best results. Then send the best performing campaign out to everyone else.

STEP FOUR: Build a List

If you’re new to direct marketing, and that’s ok because many in business are, you will need to either develop your own list or procure a list from a reputable company such as Salesgenie or Data Axle USA. Alternately, you may have a list that is suffering from list fatigue, in which case you need to bring in some fresh contacts.

Creating your own marketing list isn’t impossible, but it will take time and effort to build. One of the ways you can build a list is to create content that requires someone to “opt-in” (to give something to get something, such as a name and email address, mailing address, or phone number) to receive it. Here are a couple of ideas to get someone to opt-in to your list:

  • Produce a downloadable book or e-book that provides a checklist or guide
  • Offer a free product sample
  • Create a special coupon
  • Run a contest
  • Host a seminar via the internet or in person

You can also give your list building a significant jump-start by purchasing a list. Working with a mailing list provider can be incredibly beneficial, providing instant access to leads that match the data set of your most desired customers. This means that instead of spending hours hunting for contacts, qualifying them and vetting out the best options, you can start with a prequalified list of contacts.

When working with a list provider, consider using data enhancement services that provide insights beyond a contact name and phone number. It’s a method to complete your data, enabling you to personalize your direct marketing efforts for better engagement or even find new untapped audience segments. You’ll be able to identify decision-makers, prequalify potential leads, learn more about who you are targeting, and provide the right offers and messaging.

STEP FIVE: Prepare Your Message

By this step, you’re ready to combine your process and your audience insights to create a winning marketing message. Before writing, prepare a cheat-sheet with the answers to the following questions to create the best campaign:

  • What is my campaign objective? What measurable number am I trying to achieve?
  • Where, within the decision making process, are the receivers of this direct marketing message?
  • What message will resonate with the audience given the point where they are within their decision making process? (TIP: If you’re trying to sell to businesses, Jill Konrath offers some tried and true messages that resonate with mkdecision-makers.)
  • What three actions do I want the recipients to take? (And yes, you should offer at least three!)
    • Low-risk user action examples: Follow up on social media, read the most recent blog article, or share with a friend.
    • High-value user action examples: Download, subscribe, receive a free consultation, or request a product sample.
    • Conversion examples: Buy now, register now, or book now.
    • What factors will I test before launching this message to my list? For example: design, color, placement of content, calls-to-action, subject lines, etc.
  • What factors will I test before launching this message to my list? For example: design, color, placement of content, calls-to-action, subject lines, etc.

Once you’ve answered the above questions, it’s time to prepare your message. Craft your message using the strategies that newspaper publishers and editors have used for years. Put the most important information at the top, make the body of the message scan-able (because many people won’t read it in its entirety), and repeat your most important information at the bottom.

TIP: Include a P.S. or bonus message or offer at the end of your marketing piece when possible. This should include a special promotion, incentive, or reminder that only those who read the whole message will act on. Using this method will help you better understand who reads your messages as well as which recipients may be closer to the buy in the decision-making process.

But don’t forget – before sending out your mailing piece, proofread it, double check phone numbers/website links/coupon codes to make sure that everything functions as it should. You can utilize tools such as Grammarly to help ensure that your message is free of glaring typos, and grammatical and spelling errors.

Then, you’re ready to launch your direct mailing or email marketing campaign.

STEP SIX: Closing the Loop

By this step, you’ve completed your direct marketing campaign. Congratulations!

Now what?

Back in Step One, you identified measurements that: (a) tied into your bigger business objectives and (b) defined the campaign success metrics. These are critical to establishing your success measures and should be reviewed. But what separates a direct marketing dabbler from a direct marketing superhero is reviewing your diagnostic measurements.

Diagnostic measurements identify points within the campaign where “drop off” or ineffectiveness occurs. The data from these measures can be extremely valuable and provide insights, so you are consistently improving both campaign effectiveness and results. This is what ensures the top companies who use direct marketing find new business market leaders! Now you know the same secret so you can gain new prospects, generate more leads, and trigger more sales.

If your campaign consisted of print direct mailings, your data may be more limited because you cannot track who opened and/or read the message unless the receiver acts on one of the calls to action you’ve included in your message. But don’t let this limited data stop you from analyzing what you can to understand what was effective and how you can utilize that knowledge for future campaigns to the same audience. You can look to see what calls-to-action resonated most with the audience, for example. Or, you can see which geographic locations or industry or even title of the receiver had the best response rate.

Email marketing, however, opens the doors to a plethora of analytics that are exciting to data analysts and great marketers.

Some metrics you should review after the email campaign are:

  • Content engagement – how many subscribers in each group or marketing segment were gained, and how many of them engaged with the content? More frequent engagement means that a subscriber may be a good prospect and can be assigned a lead score for that interaction that can help qualify leads early in the sales cycle.
    TIP: Look at your website traffic analytics. Tools, such as Google Analytics, when combined with event tracking can be extremely helpful to see what content most resonated with your audience even if they didn’t act on a call-to-action.
  • Delivery rate – did the message have “hard bounces or soft bounces”? Bounces are the returned or undeliverable email.
    TIP: If you want to get your message through to receivers, you need to have a great reputation. It is partially determined by the number of active, valid email addresses. So, keep your list free of dead emails or emails that have “hard bounced” to enhance your reputation and reach more people on your email lists.
  • Open rate – open rate defines the success (or failure) of your subject line. Refine your subject line to improve your open rate.
    TIP: Great subject lines significantly improve open rates and that means more people read your message. Open rates help to boost your email reputation. The higher the open rate, the higher the odds are that your email won’t get trapped in a mail filter or be mistakenly flagged for spam.
  • Subscribers opened click-through rate (CTR) – how many messages and how many clicked through to a link or call-to-action? This information can be extremely valuable to help identify content that most resonates with your subscribers and audience.
    TIP: Pay special attention to your CTR, especially if the purpose of your campaign is to generate leads for big ticket sales. You will be able to identify a great deal about your audience and what content they want, so that you can serve them more of that as time goes on.
  • Benchmarks – how does your email campaign compare to others? If you want to outsmart your competition, seek to break the benchmark standard by overachieving!
    TIP: Use Subject Line Gold to understand how other email campaigns have performed based on industry and subject line.
    SUPER TIP: Before creating titles for content that you want to link to in your marketing campaign, run the titles through Subject Line Gold. Not only will you find the best titles to use, but you’ll likely get more click-throughs!


Both email and direct marketing campaigns can be extremely powerful tools to reach your audience. Identifying where your audience may be in the sales cycle, creating content that most resonates with them, as well as testing and refining your messages can drastically improve response rates. When properly executed, email and direct mailing campaigns can help you build one of the most profitable assets in your business and transform your lead generation process.

To learn more about how Data Axle USA can help your business, Contact our marketing experts at 800.835.5856.