You hear a lot of talk about direct mail being the dinosaur of marketing and soon to be extinct. The truth however is that direct mail is not disappearing, but rather evolving into a more viable solution with specific, unique characters to serve a specific purpose. And just like dinosaurs that evolved into today’s birds, direct mail campaigns that have the right stuff to survive in their environment will learn to thrive.

Understanding the role of direct mail requires evaluating how it is used and how to make it a financially viable solution for lead generation. That starts with better targeting your audience and improving its influence on the buying decision. As a recent article on Target Marketing points out, direct mail isn’t about getting prospects to place an order, it’s about promotions and driving customers to online resources where they can place an order.

Direct mail is taking a parallel course to print advertising. Initially thought dead, these medium still are readily used today. Direct mail however offers a more effective solution for delivering a solid return-on-investment because it gives you the ability to target, track and sell to known prospects rather than the general population. It should be used to target people who have already express some interest in your product and simply need a push toward a buying decision.

Making direct mail work therefore requires a few key characteristics.

1. Have a Hook
If you’re investing in direct mail, make sure you give your target audience something to respond too. There are thousands of options to choose from such as free trials, order discounts, and free shipping. Make your audience take notice by integrating these into your direct mail campaigns in a prominent place. Also, make sure your incentive is time based to encourage people to take action now. Give a bonus to the first 100 responders or make it a “Limited Time Offer.” Capture their attention then give them a reason to do it now.

2. Know your audience
Direct mail can be expensive. In addition to the fix costs spent on creative, there are variable costs associated with printing and postage that need to be managed. This means you need to do a thorough job of analyzing your list and targeting only those prospects who have the highest probability of responding. Don’t think of direct mail as mass mail. It needs pinpoint accuracy to be cost effective. This is as true for B2C as it is for B2B lead generation. Simply taking an old list and sending them a postcard is pointless. Do your homework and segment your audience by their buying profile. Then target people who are ripe to buy just as you would when making a sales call.

3. Personalize your content
Similarly, as your profiling your target audience, take advantage of this information to personalize your direct mail piece with variable print technologies. Start by incorporating the person’s name into your creative, but then go a step further and customize your content to appeal to specific details you know about them. This could be as simple as discussing familiar aspects of their industry, neighborhood or family. One great example of how to do this is including detailed data about past purchases and related products they might be interested. The more you can do to relate with each target prospect the more likely they will be to respond.

4. Streamline your buying process
One of the easiest things to do is probably the most important; streamlining your buying process. Make it simply for people to respond and take further action. This includes incorporating an 800 number and an online storefront dedicated to the offer of your direct mail. Don’t simply send people the front page of your website and hope they find what you were showing them in your direct mail. Help them through the process with dedicated content and a clear path toward your preferred result.

5. Follow-up
Streamlining your buying process should also include actively following up on every opportunity. This doesn’t mean you should call every person on your direct mail list. It means you need to have a plan in place for tracking warm responses that don’t turn into sales as well as those that do. Utilizing personalized urls (Purls) and Personalized Landing Pages is an effective and affordable way to get detailed tracking information of your direct mail performance. These tools can tell you who is taking an interest in your offer even if they don’t identify themselves online. With that information, you can quickly follow-up with email or a phone call to provide additional information and incentives profile that customer and hopefully close the deal.

Direct mail, unlike digital and other print media has the advantage of being tactical and in your face. Even if your target prospect isn’t interested in your offer, they are at least forced to do something with your promotion. By leveraging these tactile experiences and incorporating sensory data into your direct mail campaigns with exciting creative, you can capture the users attention in ways not possible online or in a magazine. This is helpful to getting your target audience to invest a few moments of time to learn about your company and products. This can be accomplished using unusual paper, die-cuts, different size mailers, packaging and overstuffed envelopes. And once you have it, keep them on the hook with clearly written copy, a powerful call-to-action, personalized content and enhanced online media that will simplify closing the sale. When you’ve done all that, your direct mail programs won’t go the way of the T-Rex, but rather evolve and multiply like the birds.