Mail order - Marketing Management

This form of direct marketing uses a catalogue or brochure from which the customer places orders. Often the catalogue is part of a mail shot, or it may have been provided in the company’s retail outlet. Some catalogue marketers use agents who generate orders from friends and acquaintances. The first catalogue mail order company was reputedly established in the USA by Benjamin Franklin in 1744, selling scientific and academic books. Specialist mail order companies have seen a resurgence of its popularity. In part, this is due to increasingly busy lifestyles, making it difficult for many customers to visit retail outlets. Mail order marketers have also improved their marketing techniques

Catalogues now tend to be well produced and are used by up-market brands and retailers, whereas in the 1960s mail order had a down-market image. New and easier methods of payment via credit and debit cards have helped facilitate the popularity of this direct marketing method. An effective catalogue marketer is the NEXT Company. Although essentially a retailer, NEXT appreciate that many of their customers are busy working women for whom shopping through a catalogue at home represents a significant advantage. NEXT was one of the first companies to move up-market with catalogue marketing. Their catalogues are expensively produced and designed to show their fashion products in the best possible light. Back-up systems for NEXT’s catalogue marketing activities include easy delivery, payment and return systems. Unlike many of the established mail order companies NEXT charge potential customers for their catalogue, a practice which has become more and more widespread amongst top end mail order catalogue marketers.

Planning direct mail

The following represent the key steps in conducting a direct mail campaign:

  1. Identify target recipients/compiling the mailing list
  2. The greatest proportion of direct mail is thrown away unopened. Any that is opened is often only partly read, and even less is acted upon. The principal reason is that most direct mail is unsolicited by the recipient. One of the most important factors determining the effectiveness of direct mail is the identification on the part of the direct mail campaign planner of the target recipients of the mail campaign. It is vital to identify recipients who are most likely to be interested in the subject of the direct mail campaign and are most likely to respond positively. Identifying and understanding the target audience are essential in planning any marketing communications. In the case of direct mail, this identification is normally done using a mailing list. A mailing list obviously contains the names and postal and/or e-mail addresses of targets for the mail campaign, but, in turn, the mailing list itself must be based on customer details and information that allows only the most appropriate recipients for the mail shot to be identified. Because of this, in addition to straightforward names and addresses, a mailing list is built using information and data about potential recipients. This information and data may include details of, for example, lifestyles, incomes, qualifications, family details and past purchases.

    A major reason for its growth is the increase in consumer information and databases. A mailing list, therefore, is the driving force of direct mail planning and any data and information on which the mailing list is based must be relevant and up to date. Increasingly, commercial market research companies, advertising agencies, and specialist direct mail and mailing list agencies supply appropriate mailing lists for a campaign. For example, CACI, the developer of the ACORN system also supply mailing lists, in this case linked to ACORN groups. Similarly, the Royal Mail is a major supplier of UK mailing lists.

  3. Setting objectives
  4. As with all marketing activities it is important to determine the objectives of a direct mail campaign. Specifically, the marketer needs to consider what response the direct mail campaign is designed to elicit from the target recipients. For example, we need to determine whether the mail shot is designed to elicit, say, a telephone enquiry from a customer, or whether it is designed to ‘break the ice’, the direct mail shot being followed up by a telephone call. At this stage it is important to determine what constitutes an appropriate target for the campaign so the marketer needs to determine what percentage rates of return are being sought.

  5. Producing the direct mail package
  6. This step in conducting a direct mail campaign includes decisions such as what to include in the direct mail shot e.g. samples, the covering letter, any free gifts, money-off or discount vouchers. In addition to what is inside the direct mail package, decisions must be made about the outside of the package i.e. the envelope or parcel the recipient will receive, and about what to say in the direct mail campaign. Designing effective direct mail packages is a specialized and skilled task, and the resultant end products must ensure that at the very least the customer is interested enough to open the package in the first place. This is a crucial step when determining the effectiveness of the campaign. To be effective, a mailing list should be built upon information about target customers.

  7. Evaluation, control and follow-up
  8. All spending on direct mail should be evaluated and controlled. The marketer must consider whether pre-determined objectives have been met, and if not, why not. Direct mail often requires a planned follow-up by contacting mailed customers by telephone. A campaign will only be as good as the quality of the follow-up.


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