Direct mail is one of the primary tools in an HVAC contractor’s marketing tool belt. A mailing list for your territory can be readily purchased or developed, and a letter can be quickly written and mailed. But to get the best return on your investment, you need to do direct mail right or it could end up being a waste of time and money.

Based on 20 years of experience in advertising and public relations, here are some tips on developing an effective direct mail marketing campaign.

Make Your Best Offer

You need to make the most attractive and enticing offer you can think of in order to catch the attention of a new prospect via direct mail. This person doesn’t know who you are. He or she is not familiar with what you offer. You need to state your case, quickly and effectively, to capture their interest and get them to consider your offer.

The word “free” is always attractive and compelling in direct mail. People like getting something for free; they notice the word and respond to it in all types of advertising and promotion. Try preparing and offering a free booklet that discusses the importance of maintaining HVAC equipment. The booklet can give the consumer helpful and useful information that they can apply to save money and have a safer, healthier household, some of which they can do themselves like change their furnace filter. But to get the full benefit of regular maintenance — a tuneup — they’ll need to call a qualified contractor, and your company name and phone number will be listed prominently.

Offering an optional extra for free — such as a free programmable thermostat — is another solid appeal. Including coupons for dollars off a tuneup or 10 percent off a new central air system are also good ways to win over new customers.

Use The Envelope To Promote

Put brief teaser copy on your envelope, or on the front of your self-mailer (a flyer that folds for mailing). You need to give the prospect a reason to open your mail. Put that reason right on the envelope.

If you have a free offer, print it on the envelope. The prospect must look inside to find out the details. If a valuable $25 coupon is included, let them know on the envelope. Put it in bold type and/or in color. Make sure you get the prospect’s interest immediately and make them want to open and read your full offer.

Long Copy Should Not Be Avoided

Some people believe direct mail copy has to be short and sweet. That is not necessarily the case. Once you spark the interest of your prospect, you need to explain why your offer is the best. You’ll want to use short paragraphs and bullet points. You may use underlining or yellow highlighting to stress the most important points. But you also need to give them all the details they need to generate desire for your product or service.

Some people need less convincing; some people need more convincing. Don’t forget the ones who need more. Especially for more expensive products like HVAC equipment, prospects often need more facts before they will act.

And put those facts in terms of comfort, convenience, and especially dollars and cents for the prospect. Offering a higher efficiency air conditioner doesn’t really mean anything to the consumer. Compared to what? For example, to illustrate the difference when moving up from 10 to 12 SEER, emphasize that they’ll use 20 percent less energy throughout the cooling season for an average savings of X dollars for your area.

Test Different Promotions

Try out different envelope teasers with the same letter. Try different openings for your letter, with the rest of the details the same. Try shorter versus longer letters. Try different points of emphasis in your letter. Determine which effort sells the most, then continue to use your best-selling approach for subsequent mailings.

A small adjustment could make a big difference in the success of your direct mail. Test to see what works best in your area.

Mailing Response

Response rates for direct mail can vary widely. One expert says that the response rate can be as low as 0.5 percent. Another says 1 to 2 percent is average. Yet another cites 1 to 3 percent as typical. Naturally, with response rates at this level, a mailing has to be done in volume to be worthwhile. Mailing just a hundred pieces could result in only one response — or possibly none.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) recently noted that one catalog company increased its response rate from 0.07 to 0.09 percent during the recession and was quite pleased. Of course, this company is mailing out hundreds of thousands of pieces, so a tiny response rate can still be profitable and a minuscule increase can result in significantly more sales. On the other hand, the DMA has pointed out that some companies have achieved considerably better rates, as high as 50 percent or more for high-quality products aimed at established customers.

On average, you will see lower response rates when you mail to a list of prospects, and substantially higher rates when you mail to your existing customer list. Your customers already know who you are. And, since they’ve already bought from you, you’ve already developed a level of trust. You are no longer a stranger asking for their business.

Many companies don’t realize that their best prospects are actually their existing customers. These companies continually chase after new customers while ignoring or paying little attention to current customers. For the greatest return on investment, make use of mailings to your customer list to offer tuneups, service agreements, IAQ upgrades, and equipment replacements.

A customer ignored can end up becoming someone else’s customer down the road. Stay in touch periodically via direct mail and you can continue to reap the maximum profit potential from your existing customer base while you reach out to their neighbors for new business.

Greg Mazurkiewicz is web editor and a former advertising/public relations professional. He can be reached at 248-244-6459; 248-362-0317 (fax);

Publication date: 05/05/2003