London skyline from Tate Modern overlooking our direct response marketing test site

Direct response marketing works – here’s my proof

by | business copywriting, call to action, copywriting, direct response, headlines, response rate, Storytelling, Writing

Share Share Ah, London. With your streets paved with gold – and the occasional blob of chewing gum. Beautiful people,…

Ah, London. With your streets paved with gold – and the occasional blob of chewing gum. Beautiful people, beautiful cars, beautiful weather (granted this was August) and more high-flying businesses in a few square miles than anywhere else in the country. The perfect place, then, for a spot of direct marketing.

London skyline from Tate Modern overlooking our direct mail marketing test site

Is this the answer to email fatigue?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the focus of all marketing today is in the digital sphere, from Facebook campaigns, sponsored Instagram posts to email newsletters. The fact that our inboxes are overflowing is a testament to this.

The overwhelm is such that Arianna Huffington’s company, Thrive Global, has developed a piece of software to protect employees from email overwhelm when they return from their holidays.

“The way it works is simple: While you’re away on vacation, people who email you get a message, letting them know when you’ll be back. And then — the most important part — the tool deletes the email. If the email is important, the sender can always send it again. If it’s not, then it’s not waiting for you when you get back, or, even worse, tempting you to read it while you’re away. So the key is not just that the tool is creating a wall between you and your email; it’s that it frees you from the mounting anxiety of having a mounting pile of emails waiting for you on your return — the stress of which mitigates the benefits of disconnecting in the first place.”

Arianna Huffington, Harvard Business Review

Lost in a sea of emails?

Although we may struggle to keep on top of them, there’s no doubt that email marketing works. The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) reports,

“E-mail is fast, quick, low cost and research shows people prefer it as a method of communication when they know the organisation that is contacting them.

In 2013 average open rates were 19.6% (consumer products faired better at 25.4%) and a unique click through rate of 16.9%. Only 3.0% of those who received the e-mail actually visited a webpage and that generated an average response rate of 0.12%. Where you have a relationship with the individual results improve and the top performers had an open rate of 38.6% but 25% of e-mailers only achieved 7%.”

But while digital strategies work, sometimes it’s good to think outside the box.

How long is it since you held a sales message in your hand?

It was Sir John Hegarty of BBH who said, “When the world zigs, zag.”

Sir John Hegarty and Katherine Wildman

By which he meant, don’t follow the crowd. Do something a little different. See what you can do to make sure that you stand out from everyone else.

Is it time to go against the flow?

So if every other Tom, Dick and Harry is focusing on their digital strategy, what can you do to stand out from the crowd? Let’s go back to the DMA.

“Direct Mail 100% delivery, 56% of people believe that printed marketing is the most trust worthy form of communication, 66% of consumers keep their mail for over 2 weeks. Even in a digital world direct mail gets 44% of recipients to go your website. Average response rates are 4%. Overall 7% of receivers will take some sort of action.

Research undertaken at Bangor University looked at how the brain reacts to printed material versus virtual stimuli.  The “real” experience that the physical media provides means it’s better at becoming part of memory. It generates more emotion, helps to develop more positive brand associations, the materials have a more personal effect, and therefore aid motivation.

Direct mail has a response rate of 30 times that of e-mail and coupled with the availability of large quantities of reliable data provides a great opportunity to build your business. Costs are of course higher which is why you have to adopt the right approach to making it work.”

Let’s print it and see

Working with graphic and web designer Belinda White from Arttia Creative, we decided to do a test to see just how effective a printed direct response marketing campaign could be. Together we created a small and perfectly formed mailing pack. With a postcard for each of our businesses. Strangely Belinda had an idea about the copy, and I had an idea about the design. But that’s the power of collaboration when fuelled by espresso.

We added a pack of stickers to our postcard order – who doesn’t love a sticker? – and we waited.

Then, while I was in London, I visited the London Design Centre and bought beautiful coloured envelopes, parcel labels, a Sharpie and a box of bulldog clips.  Sitting at my friend’s kitchen table with a glass of throat-warming Slivovitsa, I put the packs together. It was all very Blue Peter.

direct response marketing works and here's why

Going Old School in the Big Smoke

I put the cards into separate envelopes and fastened them together with a bulldog clip. Then tied a handwritten tag onto each, with a red sticker saying “Stop!” on one side. Then I wrote a note on the reverse side that said either, “What’s this?”, “Who’s this from?” or “Hammertime” (that one still makes me laugh).

Just think about it. How often do you see someone’s handwriting these days? Yes, sometimes there’s a pretend-y signature on the end of an email – or printed on the end of a good direct mail letter – but very rarely do we actually see something that another human being has written down.

And there’s a certain power in reclaiming that.

Promotional materials developed by Arttia Creative and Haydn Grey

Now, I’d love to tell you I’d researched the creative agencies and PR companies that I’d love to work with. But this is me. And there are only so many hours in the day. And my train home was at 2 pm. So I hit Holborn and headed ‘in-land’.

Picture the scene. Covent Garden. Midday. Acrobats, “people who get paid to stand still for a living” (Thank you for that line Andy Maslen) and jugglers. And an additional juggler, shaped like me.

One suitcase, one backpack, one cup of Hotel Chocolat coffee – not a wise call, too much to carry, too few hands – and a pile of envelopes, bulldog clips and string.

Where to start?

I spy, with my little eye

Thank heavens for the modern age. Where you can spot a hip and happening company by the fact that they’ll have an email address on their window signage or a Twitter handle, or even – in one instance – a hashtag. Digital, does indeed, have its uses.

So, that’s where I targeted my efforts and that’s whose doormats I decorated with my missives.

The mail was – literally – dropped.

And time was running out.

I headed to King’s Cross, grabbed another coffee for the trip and settled into my seat.

And then it began.

“Top marks for originality”

The response.

The subject line of the first one was, “I stopped and listened…”

This was an executive assistant at the hash-tagged agency.


It read “…to the note you posted at 28 Shelton St. Oddly, no one else picked it up, but being the inquisitive (and slightly illegal) sort, I ran the risk of opening up someone else’s post and found your details. Top marks for originality!

You want to contact the Studio team who are always on the look out for skilled copy writers, especially as we’re branching out into more marketing and creative content.

She then gave me the direct email addresses of the people I need to get in touch with and ended her note with “Good luck!”

Then she wrote back again. And gave me another name of another Creative Director who might need a copywriter.

And she promised to keep a look out on LinkedIn for other leads.

And so it went on.

I’m going to segue into another story here. And it’s a vital one. Perhaps the most important part. Because it’s all very well sending out an email or a piece of direct mail. But if you do nothing to follow it up, what was the point?

The Golden Rule of direct response marketing

Once a year Save the Children does a door-to-door collection. A red and white envelope lands on my doorstep. This envelope joins a pile of plastic bags that ask for donations of clothes or bric-a-brac. The weekly local newspaper. And flyers for local takeaways.

I do the clothes and the bric-a-brac donations when I can.

I read the newspaper.

And I bin the takeaway flyers.

But I always put the Save the Children envelope to one side. And I fill it during the week.


Not just because it’s a brilliant charity.

But because I know that my neighbour, Linda, delivered the envelope.

And that she will come out, in all weathers, to collect it in again.

And she’ll tell me how well she’s doing – or not (gossip is a key factor in this) – and she’ll shout out to people as they pull into their drives and come home from work that she’s collecting and that she will be with them in five minutes.

She follows up in style.

And so I’m going to shake things up a little bit and copy Linda. And follow up my direct mail.

And I’m going to send a link to this post to every place that I dropped one of our mail packs.

Because, as they say around here, “Shy bairns get nowt.”



With thanks to Belinda White at Arttia, a web designer specialising in working with biotech, life science and the technology sectors.

Written By Katherine

Katherine Wildman is a copywriter for creative agencies and multinational brands – and the Creative Director of Haydn Grey.

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