For many direct marketers, formats are the fun part. Bob Stone, direct marketing guru and author of Successful Direct Marketing Methods, advises that your format have a character appropriate to the target audience. Here are a few direct-to-doctors do's and don'ts, based on your humble columnist's two-plus decades of experience in the field:
Don't feel compelled to overproduce. The most successful mailing your editor was ever involved with, one that increased response by 250 percent, was also among the simplest. This has been echoed by the recent experiences of leading medical associations in their efforts to market everything from books to memberships.
Test first-class postage, especially with your list of past course attendees. I know it's expensive, but the recent experience of a major medical association confirms that the lift in response more than compensates for the cost. You can use some of the money you save by eschewing fancy formats to help keep it budget-neutral. Furthermore, with the continual ratcheting up of nonprofit rates by the postal service, the difference is decreasing, especially if you presort and bar code your list to take advantage of automated rates. Why does first class pull better than standard A (the postage rate formerly known as third class)? Because of one basic reality: lots of docs and/or their loyal office staff screen mail using a simple binary test: Read first class, toss standard A.
Be creative, even humorous--within reason. One of the top-ranked medical journals, the Cortlandt Forum, is like a medical version of The New Yorker in that it's filled with cartoons-- and good ones, I might add.
Be crystal clear. Never sacrifice clarity for creativity. A direct-mail piece which demands too much time or energy to decipher is landfill fodder.
Keep it smart. Doctors perceive themselves to be the best and the brightest. Your copy should play to that.
Make sure your pitch is "Truth Well Told." Support your claims with facts--the scientific mind craves evidence.
Pushing the Envelope The most important element is the first thing the recipient sees. In the classic package--outer envelope, letter, brochure, and reply device--perhaps the most important element is the envelope. If it doesn't get opened, the rest of the package is irrelevant. There are many techniques to get the envelope opened. One of the most effective is a teaser. Print brief copy on the envelope that compels the recipient to open the piece. It's well worth the effort and expense.
The letter should be only as long as it needs to be. I am a big fan of one-page letters because busy professionals don't have time for a long read.
Brochure Essentials People who are interested, who are considering buying what you are selling, crave more information relevant to their purchase decision. The brochure is for them. It lends credibility to your package and provides in-depth information. The brochure is essential in marketingif they are multiday, multisession extravaganzas. They are such a standard aspect of meeting promotion that foregoing their use will make your program seem less substantive by comparison with others. There is a certain "keep up with the Joneses" element to marketing in highly competitive markets such as CME. If a three-panel, 8 1/2 by 11 inch brochure is standard, it's virtually obligatory for at least one wave of your campaign.
The other reason brochures are essential is because they offer you an opportunity to do justice to the speakers, topics, and location highlights of the event you are promoting. The necessity of a brochure as part of your promotion doesn't mean you must forgo the classic package, but you should test it against the alternatives as, compared to a self-mailer, chances are it will be more expensive.