A question I sometimes hear is, “Does direct marketing still work? Should I bother?”

Many people also wonder how a direct marketing strategy might fit into a broader online strategy. If you’re trying to leverage direct marketing with little luck and a lot of wasted dollars, then it’s time to look a bit deeper into why it’s not working for you as well as it should.

It’s All About Your Message – and It’s Probably Wrong

Direct response marketing is the strong, silent type: you don’t have a lot of time or a lot of words to get your message across, which can be intimidating. Perhaps you’ll make up for it with amazing, eye-catching graphics, throw some copy that looks semi-decent at it, and then add on something limp to seduce people into ordering from you.

Well, all of that’s going to leave you high and dry. It doesn’t matter how amazing your mailout looks; if the message isn’t there, it’s just not going to convert. You should be looking not just at your brand’s message, but also your target audience – and finding a specific focus for those people in your catchment area.

Let’s say you’re a realtor, and you want to get renters to buy homes. So, you decide to try some direct response mails out to people living in apartment buildings. You’re smart enough to figure out that these people are renting their homes, and at least a few of them want to buy.

So far, so good – but here’s where a lot of people slip up.

You might send a postcard saying something basic like “We sell homes!” with some other messaging basically letting people know all about you, the homes you help, and the incredible service you deliver. Good enough, right?

Well no, not really.

This simply isn’t going to convert. Although your targeting is spot on, the messaging is lame.

You’re not addressing any issues: perhaps these people are tired of renting? Perhaps they wish the $1,000 they spent on rent was going to their own little patch of real estate. Maybe you don’t need down payments.

Put all this on the postcard, and you’ve already got a much stronger message. Your targeted renters are reminded of a thought that almost all of them have had, now they have someone talking to them about owning real estate at affordable prices.

You’ll get calls.

The only thing you changed was the message.

Don’t Forget About Frequency Dependency – It Matters

If you’re a biologist, you already know this term. If not, frequency dependency refers to an evolutionary process in which a biological signal or trait’s value goes down as it becomes more common in that environment.

Now, that can be a bit confusing to wrap your head around, so take a look at this peacock:

peacock display direct response marketing and copywriting

Nice, isn’t it?

As you already know, the peacock uses his bright, bold, and colorful features to show off his worth to peahens (lady peacocks). The bigger, brighter, and bolder the colors of the peacock’s feathers, the more attractive a peacock is to a prospective mate.

Now, here’s where frequency dependency comes in. Imagine that every peacock living was practically identical when it came to their plumage. The peahen wouldn’t have anything to see the difference anymore, making her job of picking an amazing mate a lot harder.

As a result, the peacock’s magnificent plumage is devalued, as, well, there’s nothing special there anymore.

Wait, What Do Peacocks Have to Do With Direct Response Marketing?

Good question. Essentially, the peacock’s feathers are your message. The more familiar your target audience become with your message – especially if it’s the same as everyone else’s – the blinder they get to it.

It’s just too familiar, and everyone’s got the same message. It’s overwhelming, and people just shut off. They don’t know who to pick when everyone has 24/7 service with 25% off and almost exactly the same offer and claims!

You don’t stand out – and it’s a lot harder to persuade a confused audience who isn’t all that impressed by what you’ve got to offer.

If you were wondering, yes, this eventually happens to even the most successful advertising messages. Change is the only constant, and your best ad will one day end up in the trash due to market saturation and fatigue.

In other words, you can’t run the same promotion month after month, year after year. The results will decline, simply because it’s the same old, same old. The better your promotion did, the more people will have “borrowed” it, too.

You can’t win – unless you’re constantly switching up your direct response game.

Be Wary of Lurking Dangers In Your Promotional Cycles

While direct response mailouts are a great way to get news of a special offer out, you want to cool down a bit on the offers if you’re selling stuff with a long product purchase cycle. I mean things like HVAC systems, cars… big things.

Things people aren’t buying all the time but do need to fix or replace every so often. Let’s say you run an HVAC installation service, and to drum up business, you have these direct response campaigns telling people about your great seasonal offer.

So far, so good, but the more you do this, the more the frequency dependency come in: why should people buy from you at your regular prices when they know they can wait a few months and snap up the exact same product and service at a discount?

Any urgency you’re trying to drive is lost – your direct response campaign is just telling people to wait because there’s always going to be another price slash just around the corner.

Think about it: how often do people buy a new HVAC system – as opposed to books, clothes, and other common products that have a short product purchase cycle? Direct response works much better for cheaper goods, simply because people buy them with more frequency and having special offers or deals helps to push your brand to the front of their mind.

Your best bet – especially if you’re in a long product purchase cycle market – is toa focus more on your brand and its message and keep your direct response offers to a minimum. Say, no more than three times a year. This doesn’t overload your target market and will help to keep your offers fresh, credible, and appealing.

A Direct Response Copywriter Can Help With Your Message

So, if you’re wondering why your direct mail promotion didn’t work, those are a few potential reasons why. Of the three, your message remains the most important, as the more targeted you can make it the more conversions you will get.

How you approach this area more generally is very dependent on your business and what you sell, but there’s nothing complicated going on here – you need to focus on your strategy, rather than throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.

For example, if you sell something with a long product purchase cycle, such as HVAC systems or jewelry, you’re better off focusing on the value your brand brings rather than your constant sales and special offers. Done right, your future direct response ads should run like clockwork – and don’t forget, you can always hire a direct response copywriter to help you hit the mark!