How Small Businesses Can Manage Direct & Email Marketing

Enterprise companies equipped with large-scale marketing teams are the only companies that can take advantage of email and direct marketing campaigns…right? For many small business owners, this likely doesn’t sound like a trick question – their answer would be yes. In reality, even small businesses can use email and direct marketing campaigns to drive sales. And while direct mail marketing may seem outdated and pricey, it can actually be a critical source of revenue for small businesses. Here’s how and why your company should consider these two types of marketing.

The Value Behind Direct & Email Marketing

If a small business owner has invested in one of these lucrative marketing tactics, it’s likely email marketing. Email marketing is more cost effective than direct mail marketing, and many small business owners feel like it’s something they can do themselves. Yet despite higher costs, direct mail pieces are more likely to get their customers’ attention, says Chris Dunn, Vice President of Marketing for Dun & Bradstreet.

With email you get less than a second of your customer’s attention, but with direct mail you can easily get a few crucial seconds of their time – more if you can make your offer relevant to them. Most people just skim their inbox and delete email, or worse, send emails directly to their spam folder and never look at them. But with direct mail, you can get people’s attention by sending information directly to their home or office.

According to the Direct Marketing Association’s Statistical Fact Book 2014, almost 80 percent of consumers will act on direct mail immediately versus the 45 percent who say they will respond to email marketing. One of the reasons direct mail might be more effective is that most people still habitually sort through all their physical mail, but many people never read all their emails – and some will even use a separate email account as a filter for emails from businesses.

How Data Influences Direct Marketing

A key to a successful marketing campaign is data. In fact, 41 percent of marketers said they’ve seen positive return on investment from data-related marketing expenditures, according to the DMA. Further, 66 percent of marketers believe that data-driven marketing has had a positive impact on their business.

Data is important because customers expect the direct mail landing in their mailboxes to be personalized offers that are relevant to them and their needs. Understanding who your customer is and what his or her needs are is an important part of developing a direct mail piece that feels personalized and relevant.

“It really comes down to hitting the right person with the right offer at the right time,” Dunn says.

When you don’t get a response from someone, there’s a good chance you just didn’t send the right offer at the right time. What’s important, Dunn says, is to stay in front of them.

The Key is Adding Value

While some customers might be turned off by receiving multiple emails, they are often more forgiving about receiving multiple direct mail pieces or even a layered approach that combines direct mail and email marketing. To help avoid aggravating prospects with too much mail, try to remember that you’re targeting individuals just like yourself.

“You need to speak to them in a relevant way that means something to them, captures their attention or adds value to their lives,” Dunn says. By always making sure you’re adding value, you may be able to send more mailings without frustrating your audience.

The United States Postal Service offers tools to help you personalize your mailing list and find specific customers in your business radius. You can choose recipients based on address, age group, household size, and income level. In addition, there are companies that allow you to buy mailing lists based on very specific factors, including whether they are new parents, new homeowners, renters, health enthusiasts, or green consumers.

The key is to think about the attributes and preferences of your typical customer and target people just like them. Figure out what your typical customer looks like (age, gender, marital status, income level, interests, etc.), and then go to a company that sells lists and find other people just like them. If you’re looking for ways to measure your direct marketing campaign, RR Donnelley offers tools to help you decide on sample size, response rates, and statistical significance.

Email marketing and direct mail marketing work. Dunn suggests that if you aren’t getting the responses you want, you may not be following best practices or you may need to do more testing to find the process that works best for you.

Podcast: How to Launch a Direct Marketing Campaign

In a Dun & Bradstreet podcast episode with Dunn, he shared his insights about direct marketing and how small business owners can get started. Here are just a few takeaways from the episode:

  • Direct marketing involves much more than just print and email marketing.
    • While print and email are still both highly effective, direct marketing also includes things like television ads, targeting through music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, and other channels.
  • Some people may think direct mail is outdated, but in reality, it’s still extremely valuable. A key to successful direct mail marketing is demonstrating value. You only have a few seconds to connect with your customer or prospect, so you need to be able to immediately demonstrate your value. Make sure your content will matter to your target.
  • Psychology can actually play a big role in direct marketing. Most people are capable of thinking like a marketer and can use basic psychology to figure out how they should target someone or who to target.
    • Ask simple questions like these: “Are my ideal customers younger or older than me?” “Are they single, married, or divorced?” “Do they have children or not?” Then think about how you would target that person. Say your ideal customer is older than you, married, and has children. Well, that sounds like a parent, so then think about how you would target your mother or father.

There’s much more to be learned from Chris than just these few takeaways, including strategies for maintaining a marketing list and areas where many business owners make mistakes when getting started with email marketing. Download the podcast on iTunes for more.

Mastering Email Marketing

While direct mail can be just as or more valuable than email marketing, you’ll still want to consider implementing some kind of email campaign for your company as well. Because email is preferred for information about local events, it could be a great way to advertise your small business in your community. And since email marketing is generally less expensive and less difficult to produce than direct mail, you may be ably to use email campaigns more often. You can easily get started in email marketing with services such as MailChimp, which can help you build and manage your campaigns. If you are employing email marketing more than other strategies, though, be sure you’re always providing value as Dunn suggests. It can be easy to develop a template and forget to innovate. If your messaging becomes too repetitive or rigid, you may lose subscribers or get tossed as spam.

Is Your Email Marketing Strategy Too Rigid?

Marketers need to pivot with the changing business landscape, buyer preferences, industry forecasts, and more. As such, marketers must constantly adjust their strategies – often through trial and error – which can be grueling.

Email marketing, for example, can require continuous updating, testing, and adjusting: Just when you think you’ve got it down, your audience is ready for something new. Therefore, marketers who employ a rigid email strategy – one that’s more like an equation than a creative process – might experience more losses than gains. After all, marketers are the creative strategists of a business. Therefore, their strategies should be innovative, malleable, and open to future change.

So if you’ve been blasting out emails with the same messages to the same list of leads on the same days of the week, it’s about time for you to inject some vitality into your strategy. You can do this by changing up your creative approach with:

Emotional Messaging

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the leads you’re trying to generate are actual human beings, not just businesses with cash and a need for your product. As such, you’d be surprised how far a little emotional marketing can go because, in the end, people buy with their feelings. For instance, email messages that tug at an emotional chord will get your buyers thinking things like, “Wow I’m scared my competitors might nab this company’s product before I do,” or “This product offering has got me thrilled.” So, go ahead and discuss your company’s partnership with a local charity, or get real about a social or economic issue plaguing your prospects’ industry at the moment; these messages humanize your business and may increase your viability.

When it comes to sending out emails, most marketers (including me) live by the standard rule of sending on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and for good reason—these are the workdays when people are most involved with email. But, consider the fact that some buyers might be tired of this routine and desensitized by your sending schedule. They know when to expect your message and it’s not taking them by surprise or grabbing their attention. So, take a stab at sending a few messages on different days of the week, or different times of the day. It might take your audience by surprise and pique their interest.

Subject Lines

It’s incredible that a great deal of your email campaign’s success hinges on the 50 characters or less that make up the subject line. And while you might think this is exactly why you should play it safe and stick to your tried-and-true subject line formula, it’s also a great opportunity to experiment with new, potentially game-changing tactics. For instance, you might only use positive superlatives in your subject lines to avoid controversy or offending recipients. However, a study from Outbrain revealed that the average click-through rate on headlines with negative superlatives is 63% higher than that of their positive counterparts, when compared in an A/B split test. So experiment with using different language in your subject line by writing things like, “Collaboration Pitfalls That Are Killing Your Productivity.” Bold statements incite urgency within most individuals thereby prompting them to open the message.


As much as marketers try to shoulder all of their responsibilities – from creating content, managing social media, running lead gen campaigns, and more – sometimes they’re simply spread too thin. As such, enlisting the help of a third-party email marketing expert can help to get the best possible results from your campaign. A burned-out person is more likely to create lackluster, ineffective emails. So know that there are email marketing outsourcing options that enable you to take complete control of the planning and creative journey but relieve you from the responsibility of managing the entire campaign.

It’s a myth that small business owners can’t use email and direct mail campaigns in their marketing. Not only can small businesses take advantage of these tactics, they may be able to generate a significant amount of revenue with them. As long as the campaigns are valuable and delivered to the right individuals or companies, small businesses can benefit from both email and direct mail. Whether you choose to get started with one or both of these strategies, you can use D&B Hoovers to help you find leads, build lists, research prospects, and target more effectively. Learn more about D&B Hoovers and how your business can use it to develop email and direct mail campaigns.

Photo Credit: beachbumledford, Twenty20