Guest Post - Old School Marketing for New School Marketers


My name is Tom Buckland and I’m an SEO freelancer. With that one statement, you probably already have a grudge against me.

The truth is the SEO industry gets an extremely bad name for itself – with the constant cold emails that business owners receive and the horror stories of client websites dropping from Google. There is good reason why the average business owner automatically takes a defensive stance when an SEO / digital marketing guy introduces themselves.

But, like a lot of industries, when direct marketing is done correctly, there is no reason why you can’t land clients in even the toughest industries.

This article is about a case study / client generation strategy I ran for my seo company HQ SEO.

The Strategy

Our strategy was simple. We would use direct mail and email to pre-qualified prospects. I would personally write the copy, a skill I learned from 2 business books, which I’d highly recommend to anyone who owns a small business, “Guerrilla Marketing” and “Words That Work”.

Stage 1 - Create a list of pre-qualified prospects. For anyone interested in replicating this process you want to create a list of business owners who are already actively marketing their business. This is essential, as dealing with business owners who don’t understand why they should be marketing is not a conversation you want to have with someone when you are trying to close them.

To get the list of prospects, go through your local magazines, newspapers, online classified ads, and most importantly, search in Google to see the businesses using AdWords. Find businesses that are already spending money on advertising or marketing. These prospects will be 100 times easier to eventual close than ones that can’t see the value of online marketing at all.

Stage 2 - Once you have your list of prospects, the next step is to decide on a contact medium. I’m not one for cold calling, which left me with either direct mail or emails. We tested both, but play to the strength of your business.

Stage 3 - Write your copy. There are a number of aspects that change depending on who you’ll be emailing, but below are a few keys to remember when writing copy, for both email and direct mail.

  1. Keep it on 1 page.
  2. Keep it short.
  3. Don’t add fluff.
  4. Make it personal.
  5. Make it relevant.
  6. Say “you” and “your” more than “we” or “I”.
  7. Use imagery.
  8. Have a catchy and relevant headline.
  9. Include at least 2 calls to action.
  10. Describe the benefits.
  11. Don’t add irrelevant points.
  12. Use simple language.

If you keep to all of these rules you should be able to have a piece of copy that you can use as an outline when you send to your prospects.

A side note on personalization: We contacted close to 800 businesses in this period. 100 through direct mail and 700 through email. Ideally we would have researched each individual and business separately, but that would have taken forever. Instead on our emails we used a semi-personalized script, repeating the business name and owner’s name, as well as including an image relevant to their business. In some cases this was a screenshot of their current rankings, in other cases it was a picture of their website discussing potential redesign elements. Either way, to the prospect it would have felt personal. This is the key.

Stage 4 - Delivery. If you are using email, then your delivery medium is pretty simple, you press send. But if you are using direct mail and physical letters, there are 3 key elements to remember:

  1. Hand write the envelope. This looks more personal and not mass-generated.
  2. Use headed paper. Looks professional and costs pennies!
  3. Use a white, standard envelope. Again very professional and also the cheapest.

The Results

In total we sent 700 emails. Managing to increase our open-rates to 1 in 3. The click through rate of 14% on the emails was again lower than we wanted but all in all gave us 32 “bites”. Screenshot of our email stats are below.

Of those 32, 18 prospects went on to contact us for the consultation / audit. Although this number was far higher than the results generated in the direct mail testing, we also noted the style of response was negative and short. Such as the one below. 

And although the stats, volume and personalization all came together quite nicely, we concluded that people simply were more negative when they receive a semi-cold email, than they are when they receive a semi-cold letter. The physical aspect and cost might have something to do with it, or (and what I believe) the nature of the industry plays a big role.

A side note on the industry: If you’re in digital marketing, it’s better to do what other marketers and businesses are NOT doing, which is sending a physical letter.

The direct mail results were more difficult to calculate. But assuming 90% of mails were delivered and opened, we can say approximately 6% of individuals took action. This lead to 5 individuals making direct contact requesting a proposal / consultation. 2 of which came on to be clients.

Time, Costs & Conversions

Direct mail results

Research time: 50 hours (yes it really did take this long!)

Writing time: 15 hours (Semi-personalized script made this easier)

Printing/Writing and mailing: 5 hours

Cost: approximately £100.

Results: 2 signed clients @ £300 / month.

Average time of a client is around 6 months. Meaning our total earnings for the campaign were £3,600.

Although this is not all profit, the ROI was incredibly high. This is also a technique I highly recommend for start-ups, as it’s extremely time heavy with the research and writing, although relatively cheap compared to other start-up marketing techniques.


Research & writing time: 60 hours

Costs: £640 (Wages + Email tracking software)

Results: 1 signed client @ £400 / month.

The email outreach did generate more “bites” but the eventual traffic was a lot colder and hence more difficult to convert leading to a lower ROI. The eventual conversion rate was only: 700/1 = 0.14%.

Thoughts and Advice

If I had to give one piece of advice to someone looking to generate clients in this way, it would be this - Don’t get bogged down in the numbers or the methods. 10 highly personalized direct mail pieces or emails, to warm pre-qualified prospects is better than 10,000 cold ones. And taking action is better than 50 hours of research! So although testing is a key to success, remember you can test with extremely small volumes and refine your copywriting and data so that when you do run larger out-reach campaigns, they will be extremely profitable for your business.

Email Marketing + Direct Mail

Yesterday’s post was all about how direct mail is still a viable marketing tool. If you missed it, check it out here and then come back.

Today, I wanted to follow up on that concept. Because there is one thing you can do to make direct mail even more effective. And it doesn’t add much to the cost.

It’s Email!

Email used in conjunction with direct mail could be a deadly weapon in a marketer’s arsenal. Try one or all of these three strategies to improve your direct mail response:

  1. The “check your mailbox” email comes before the direct mail piece is received and makes the person aware that something interesting was mailed to them.
  2. The “reminder” email comes around the same time as the direct mail piece is received and essentially repeats what was mailed. This helps reach people who didn’t get or didn’t see the postal mail piece.
  3. The “deadline” email comes directly before the expiration of the offer made in the direct mail piece (assuming there is one). This serves as a final reminder to those people who ignored everything that came before.

These emails should resemble the look and feel of the direct mail piece. This helps the reader associate the message in their email with what they see in their physical mail. And that cohesiveness makes the campaign more effective.

If you’re already using direct mail, try adding email to it. If you’re not using direct mail, give it a better chance of working for you by testing it in conjunction with an email follow up.

Best of luck!

Direct Mail Tips that Still Work

I had a meeting the other day where I witnessed an intense debate over the effectiveness of direct mail as a marketing tool. It was an intense scene, pitting a direct mail advocate against a skeptic. Both held firmly to their beliefs, so what started as a casual discussion turned quickly into an argument.

Here’s the truth that neither person wanted to admit: like almost all other marketing vehicles, direct mail works in some situations and not in others.

The advocate would argue that if it’s not working, it’s because something is wrong with the mailing. The skeptic would argue that if it works, the money spent on it would have worked better somewhere else.

But the truth is, as much progress as we’ve made in the digital world, physical mail still has a place in marketing, and likely will for some time.

So let’s talk about what still works.

  1. List building – direct mail can be highly targeted. Unlike most “traditional” marketing tools, direct mail was built on segmentation and the ability to target individuals across a wide variety of geographic or demographic information. And the ability to select targeted names for your direct mail lists has only improved over time, as more data has become available for purchase. You could argue that direct mail is one of the most targeted marketing channels when done well.
  2. Follow up – direct mail as an advertising or lead generation vehicle may not work as well as it used to for most companies. But it is still a valuable form of follow up. When people explicitly request information from your company, if you have something to mail them you will have a better chance of converting them into a paying customer.
  3. Personalization – direct mail gives you the ability to speak to prospects as individuals. Customize the message to someone’s interests, age, where they live, or past behavior. Use their names and address them directly. The more personalized the message, the more likely they’ll be to read it and take action.
  4. Offers – people still clip coupons. It may seem like a thing of the past to some of you, but sending special offers in the mail will still get people to purchase. There will always be price conscious consumers looking for a deal, and mail is a great way to get that deal in front of them.
  5. Simplicity – understand that people have limited time and attention, and a large number of marketers just like you trying to capture that attention. So be direct and keep it simple. Limit the amount of reading your audience has to do and give a clear call to action for those interested, and you’ll likely increase the rate of response.

What is Direct Marketing?

This is a common question I see asked online and so I thought I’d take today’s post to answer it and provide some insight.

People sometimes lump all different kinds of marketing together without taking the time to realize that there are different techniques, each with a different set of goals and functions. Direct marketing, also referred to as direct response or DR, refers to a form of marketing directly to consumers that encourages a measurable action on their part.

The opposite is commonly known as branding. The major difference between the two is the goal of the campaign and, often, the size of the budget.

Direct marketing's major benefit is that it is measurable. One should be able to measure a direct cost per action. For example, you could say a certain campaign brings in new customers at a cost of $10 per customer; and each customer is worth $100 in revenue. With those numbers, you can measure the success of the campaign, and easily compare it to others. This is important for small businesses or those with smaller advertising budgets.

On the other hand, a branding campaign is broader, and not necessarily intended to create a direct response from the consumer. Think about television, billboards, and radio - the mass market advertising channels that may reach a wider audience, but are tougher to measure when it comes to direct impact on sales.

Both types of marketing have their advantages, but for smaller businesses looking to grow, direct marketing is often more profitable. And once you know the most successful campaigns, you can scale them up to grow your business more significantly.

Personalization Ideas for Direct Mail


Yesterday, we discussed personalization in marketing from the consumer standpoint. As technology continues to allow more customization, and big data allows us to learn more than we ever thought we wanted to know about our target customers, personalization opportunities abound.

Here are some personalization ideas for direct mailers.


  1. Name and address on the envelope, in the window
  2. Name on the letter


  1. Show products/features they’ve shown interest in
  2. Different graphics/messages for men and women


  1. Different graphics/messages for different geographical areas
  2. Talk about different benefits based on personal details: HHI income, professional, children, other interests


A piece of mail I recently designed was identical with one exception. We divided the country up into six regions and changed the graphics used in the letter based on where the recipient lived. The response rate increased 37%.