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Why Direct Mail Doesn’t Work for Small Business


Here is a paraphrased summary of three different conversations I had with business owners this week: 

Business Owner (B.O.): “Marketing doesn’t work, I tried it.”
Me: “Really? Tell me more about that.”
B.O.:  “I sent out a bunch of post cards and didn’t get a single response!”
Me: “Hmmm.. A ‘bunch’ you say? How many is a bunch?”
B.O.: “Two hundred and fifty!”
Me:Ok… and how many times did you mail this group of two hundred and fifty?”
B.O.: “Well, just once, why would I do it again if it doesn’t work?”  (Silly me…)

Nothing comes Easy: Especially Success in Business

Nothing in life is easy. You’ve heard that right? Everything worth having requires a lot of hard work, a ton of persistence and loads of patience: Everything from our education to our careers and even our relationships.  Did you expect to just go to a single class to earn your degree? Of course you didn’t- it took years of going to classes and studying! Did you expect to just show up at work for one day and earn a paycheck for the rest of your life? Sure that would be nice, but no.  Did you woo your spouse, shower him or her with loads of attention and compliments while you were dating and then completely ignore him or her afterwards?  Ummm, I certainly hope not! 

So then why do you expect marketing your business to be any different?  Why do so many small business owners expect marketing to be single quick-and-easy event?  Place an ad and get rich! Yay!!!!  Send out a postcard and make the phones ring off the hook!  Wahoo! One ad, one postcard, one networking group and I’m set for life!!!   It Does Not Work That Way!     I’m sorry.

A Little About Advertising and Response Rates
I guess for someone who hasn’t been in sales and marketing as long as I have, mailing out 250 cards to anyone and everyone with a “10% OFF” offer and not getting a single call may seem like an earth shattering failure… but trust me, it isn’t. Now, if you sent out 250 post cards to your target market with an extremely amazing and compelling offer using a 2 step approach  and didn’t get a single response, then I might be a bit more surprised. 

The chances of getting any response from a single ad, postcard, email, etc are going to be pretty slim. Factor in the quality of your content/message (was it compelling?), your audience (did you target?) and your tracking methods (how do you know if you got a response or not?) and it can be nearly nonexistent. 

Think about it: you are presumptuously putting your company/brand/message in front of the faces of anyone who might at some point in their lives buy your products or services; assuming they are 1) your target market, 2) they have made the decision to buy, 3) they have allocated the resources to buy, 4) there are no obstacles to them making the move to buy, and 5) they know like and trust YOU enough to want to buy from you. Holy cow with all of those variables it’s amazing we ever sell anything at all from an ad, isn’t it? 

Marketing is about Consistency and Repetition
That is why a consistent and repetitive approach is key to effective marketing. For one thing- studies show that consumers don’t even “see” an ad until they’ve been exposed to it like seven or  ten times or something…  You are never going to build a business by sending out one postcard or email or placing one ad serendipitously here and there. That just isn’t how it works- it isn’t how we  humans work. It takes time to build trust; it takes time for us to make decisions to move forward. 

But besides the whole “does advertising work or not” argument: Do you even know who your best prospect is? What their buying cycle is? What their triggers are? If not don’t even waste your time and money on another post card or magazine ad. Really.

I have an idea: the next time you want to spend some money on a postcard, an ad  or an email blast without knowing the 3 things I outlined above, go to the nearest casino instead- you’ll have a better chance of getting a return on your money…. Or better yet, hire a Duct Tape Marketing Coach!

Please click here to leave your comments. (And then scroll down to the comments section on the bottom of the page)


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5 Responses

  1. I’ve noticed that direct mailings can be effective but as a part of a comprehensive campaign and you have to run the campaign for a few years to really get good results.

    The example I’ll use is that I’ve worked with a Tax Preparation and every tax season we would send out direct mailers. We also made our location very visible and the first 3 years we didn’t have much return from direct mailers but it did give us visibility (<1%). Year 4 and 5 were much higher return in direct mailing (around 5-7%). It is different for other businesses but I think it has to be taken with the approach it needs to be done for a long period of time to be really effective.


    1. Carolyn

      Hi Ankit,

      I wrote the title of this blog kind of tongue in cheek (and to make a point!). I absolutely believe Direct Mail can work for small businesses when done correctly – as you pointed out in your comment. When marketing our businesses we need to understand that direct mail is just one piece of the puzzle; and like any other marketing tactic, it takes consistency, repetition, and a systematic approach.

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I think it really puts it into perspective and shows the power of a well thought out strategy.

  2. Greg,

    I like that! That’s an excellent variable to add. How does every small business make an offer that makes the recipient feel good about responding; even when it’s not a charity?

    Great thought. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Good points on the 5 variables of influencing a response to direct marketing. I think the only DM postcard I’ve responded to are the ones that come from organizations like the United Cerebral Palsy or Disabled American Veterans – asking me to fill a bag with clothes and give other much needed items. Why do I respond? I benefit by cleaning out my closets of clothes I haven’t worn in years. And, more importantly because of the feeling I get that my donation is helping out those who really need it.

    So, maybe we should add a 6th variable: Will they feel good about responding to this offer?

    Thanks, Greg

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