What is Direct Mail and how you can best use it to target and win the best new clients.
Direct Mail is the source of much confusion and wonderment among estate agents, especially independent agents, with tiny marketing budgets. It looks like canvassing, but is it? Or does it mean leafletting? Or even just postcards?
The confusion is worse when big data companies get involved and offer mass leaflet runs at low low costs. Without any guidance as to how to use direct mail, it’s easy to feel bewildered.
Direct Mail – What actually is it?
Firstly, let’s clarify what we mean by ‘direct mail’. The easiest differentiator, is that it’s mail addressed to a person, address, or both. Unlike leaflets, which are usually sent indiscriminately, door-to-door.
So think of Direct Mail as being a letter, in an addressed envelope, and perhaps with the addressees’ name.
But leaflets are so much easier, I hear you say. They may be easier, but are they effective?
Industry response rates for leafletting are dismal: you’re lucky if you get one good enquiry per 10,000 leaflets. That’s a response rate of 0.01%. I know a quality, independent agent who sends out 30,000 leaflets per month in the hope of getting just one market appraisal. With an average fee in her area of around £7k, she can justify it, but I still have a problem with this approach:
What about the other 99.999% of people who didn’t call you?
If you keep sending out thousands of leaflets on a regular basis, you’re simply teaching your audience to ignore your marketing. And that’s a dangerous precedent to set. Mass canvassing damages trust. Not to mention the environment, and your bottom line too. Better by far to be selective in your mailings, targeting small groups of homeowners, with a carefully crafted series of letters. A stamped, handwritten envelope is certain to be opened, and anyone who does take the time to read two or even three pages of a well-written letter, is far more likely to take an action at the end of it. After all, they will have invested several minutes absorbing and engaging with your content, as opposed to a few seconds it would take them to digest the text on a leaflet.
What are you going to say in your direct mail?
The medium of a leaflet tends to lend itself to something urgent, like an offer. I’ve seen dayglo leaflets offering free conveyancing, ‘sell for £999’, half price fees, and worse. With its attention-grabbing font and ‘what should we put on the back?’ approach to design, a leaflet is never going to attract anyone other than a bargain hunter. If that’s the type of client you want, a leaflet campaign should work well for you.
If however you’re looking for quality vendors, like the independent agents I work with are, then it’s time to change your approach: from leaflet to letter; short text to long copy; mass mailing to targeted campaigns. You need to invest some time and effort into creating the right letter. Thinking carefully about your core message, and spending time writing with your ideal client in mind, means you’ll create a letter that could still be winning you quality instructions years from now.
I should know: the proof is in the pudding
At the time of writing this, my bespoke estate agency in Windermere has generated almost £200k in instructed fees, in just ten months – and from a standing start. No one knew us; we are both new to the town. We decided right from the start that our best approach was to write the best letters our local market had ever read, so we did. We spent hours, days and weeks, carefully writing and re-writing a series of letters we would send to carefully selected homes. And it worked. In fact, in the fourteen years I’ve been working with independent estate agents, I’ve never known such a successful cold start agency as ours. Our direct mail letters have been 70% of that success.
The three essential elements of a successful direct mail campaign – do not miss a step
Before creating a direct mail campaign, you must identify the three main elements: Market, Message, Medium
Market – who you’re sending the leaflet to
Message – what you’re saying to them
Medium – what it looks like, and how it’s sent
Even if you’ve heard these from me before, pay close attention, as this is where you’re most likely to trip up, and therefore your direct mail campaign just won’t be as effective (or at all).
By far the most important element is your ‘who’ = who you send your letter to will determine the success or failure of your campaign. If you’re looking for decent quality instructions, you don’t want to be leafleting HMOs or rented flats, for example. Sounds obvious, but you need to pick your roads and areas carefully so any responses you get back will be from people who you actually want to work with.
What do you want your reader to do? Is it clear from your letter what that action is? Are they motivated and inspired to take that action? A series of letters should have a varied call to action on each, so that some actions are more effortful than others. For example, the first letter could encourage the reader to simply read a blogpost or guide on your website. (You can then re-target them on Facebook, but let’s leave that lesson for another day.) The second letter could offer to send something of value in the post to them, for just a simple email, and the last could motivate a phone call, for a chat. Trying to drive someone from completely cold to a market appraisal just won’t work, and will render your direct mail campaign a failure.
What your letter looks like is actually the least important element, but the one that agents usually spend a disproportionate amount of time on. Choice of font, thickness of paper and where your logo will go, are all far less important questions than who you will send it to, and what it will say. Actually writing and sending the letter is your biggest key to success; burying it in a decision-making bottle-neck will doom it to delay.
I know direct mail specialists who swear by coloured envelopes. We use white conqueror. Either could work for you; you can only find out by testing.
When it comes to the address though, it’s very clear that a hand-written envelope will get a better response, no question. Add a stamp, and your letter will look like it’s come from a friend. No franking: this will cut your response rates drastically, and just won’t be worth the penny or two you could save by doing it.
Also, don’t use ‘The Homeowner’ or anything similar as a salutation. Simply write the address on the envelope, and you’ll compel them to open out of curiosity.
Over to you
Time to actually write your letters and create your direct mail campaign – don’t delay, you could be generating new leads and enquiries sooner than you think. And now that you’ve read the last one thousand words, you are in much better shape to create your direct mail campaign. You know who you want to target, what message you have for them, and what your letter is going to look like. That’s more than most estate agents will ever know.
A final word of advice: you need to systemise your mail campaigns. Whether you’re targeting on-market properties, or those not on the market, you need a schedule for sending out your letters, and to allocate the responsibility to someone – preferably not you.
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