Direct mail campaigns can be an effective way to generate responses from clients and prospects. They can also be quite expensive. Using the following ideas can help you maximize your direct mail ROI by increasing your open rates and response rates. Here are the first five:

Idea 1: Send a plain letter.
Try sending a plain letter without illustrations or brochures. According to a study conducted by the Direct Marketing Association, the plain letter had a better response rate than an illustrated letter or a brochure with no letter at all. The plain letter was the winner by nearly 1% in 100 out of 125 tests.

Idea 2: Personalize your mailers.
When you personalize your letters and other direct mail pieces, you can increase your response rates by as much as 10-50%. The key to success is tying together a targeted list, an offer that is meaningful to the people on the list, as well as personalization that captures the readers’ self-interest.

A personalized direct mail piece can also create an emotional attachment to the ads and in turn to your company. Some people may even keep a personalized direct mail piece to show family, friends, and to hang on the refrigerator or work cubicle. There are many companies who now specialize in this type of personalized direct mail marketing.

Idea 3: Try a “lumpy-bumpy” mailer.
People are more likely to open envelopes that are “lumpy-bumpy.” One reason is natural curiosity about what is in the envelope. Another reason is the potential value of the item in the envelope. The lumpy-bumpy item can be something as small as a dime, a ruler, a packet of seeds or a magnet. Just make sure that the item somehow ties into your promotional message.

Idea 4: Include a response card in your mailer.
People tend to respond to offers in the way that is the most immediate to them. When you enclose a response card, you make it convenient for your readers to respond right away. It’s much easier to fill out a card than it is to go to the phone, dial the correct phone number, and then speak to a stranger on the other end of the line.

When using a response card, here are a few tips to help you increase your response rates. First, make sure that the response card is clearly labeled as such. Restate your offer on the card. Then ensure that the card is easy to fill out by giving the reader enough space to “print” his or her name, address and phone number. On the response card, you may want to include a second way to respond. For instance, the response card may also say something like, “For immediate attention to your request, please call Jeanne at 515-222-2222.”

Idea 5: Send a “you” mailer.
“YOU” is the most important word in marketing because most people are attracted to messages that are tied to self interest. The next time you write a direct mail piece, try overusing the word you by purposely beginning every headline and every paragraph with the word, “you.”

Check out the next 5 ideas for improving your direct mail response rates in Part 2.

Amy Kennel is communications director for Brokers International, Ltd.