The 9 Top Plumbing Direct Mail Mistakes to Avoid

August 16, 2010

by Adams Hudson

If you use it correctly, Direct Mail can be the most lucrative marketing tool you’ll ever use. Yet most plumbers waste wads of money on ineffective mailings because they don’t know how to do it right. 

Direct Mail offers the advantage of laser-like targeting, where you can pick your list exactly. Plus, you can “time” offers to go out and “drop” when you want. You can even specify exact quantities to go out incrementally within a convenient travel radius to minimize call travel time and fuel.

I hear some plumbers moan, “Direct Mail doesn’t work,” while others amass quiet fortunes. And I said “quiet” fortunes because Direct Mail, unlike broad market media, is “stealthy,” allowing you to market in an area right under your competition’s nose – without him knowing.

But in my years of experience, I’ve noticed some common – yet easily fixed – Direct Mail mistakes.  Understanding some of these “wrongs” can help keep you on the right track: 

1. Sending mail to the wrong list. 
You’re wasting loads of postage dollars if you send a “$49 Plumbing Inspection Special” to apartment dwellers or water heater replacement offers to new homes.  Use either your in-house customer list or a list from a good broker with these three criteria: primary interest or applicability, perceived or encourageable need and ability to pay for the service. 

2. Sending the wrong message.
Your company’s message and selling proposition should be clear in every mailing.  Are you the low-price leader? The high service provider? Are you only sending out manufacturer’s pieces because they’re co-opped? In other words, “Who are you, and what do you stand for?” Make this point in at least a minor way with every public message. 

3. Not getting people inside your envelope. 
If people don’t open your envelope, it’s going to be darn hard for them to respond to the offer. Most plumbers put mailings in company envelopes with stick-on labels that virtually scream, “I’m junk!” 

On Direct Response offers, choose the well-tested “personal-looking” hand or laser-addressed mail envelope with a simple return address. Then use a “live” postage stamp to complete the effect. This approach significantly out-pulls company-looking mail. It’s a huge crime to put an otherwise strong Direct Response offer in a bulk mailed, company-looking envelope. That kills response.

4. Making all of your mailings sales messages. 
Ironic as it sounds, the interspersing of non-sales messages improves your sales message responses! Why? Because you’re building trust, and trust rewards with a like-kind response.

Try “Happy Cards” thanking customers or “appointment-reminder” cards… or maybe an “I’m checking in on you” card following your proposal.  My all-time favorite is a well-written newsletter.  They inform, entertain, befriend, and softly ask for the sale.  Consider sending one 2-4 times per year, then watch your repeat sales and referrals soar. (We can send you a free sample newsletter and Customer Retention Report. Just ask.)

5. “Junking” up the offer. 
Don’t overdo it with a bunch of meaningless stuff.  You know what I’m talking about… logos everywhere, a few reckless offers, a starburst with another feature, clip art of Wally the Friendly Service Tech and something witty like “We are #1 in the #2 business!”  Just talk to homeowners like human beings who want to improve their lives in some measurable way. Stick to this and you’ll do fine.

6. The “Me” syndrome. 
Avoid phrases like: “We’re the biggest, oldest, fastest, best, cheapest, most convenient, have won the most awards and are the smartest, most handsome plumbers that ever lived.” Bad news: People don’t care. They want to know one thing – what’s in it for them.  Focus on this and you’ll be light-years ahead of your self-impressed, babbling competition. 

7. Offering no value. 
Don’t ask your “special” customer to read your “special” offer that contains nothing special. It’s insulting. Give them a real reason to be reading your letter.  Good copywriters can build value and benefits so high that a customer’s main question becomes, “Why wouldn’t I call them?” Offer value, express value, give value.

8. Not clearly asking for action. 
If you leave out your “call to action,” you leave your customer hanging. You must tell your prospects what to do. Be firm but polite: “Call us now for your free Plumbing Inspection.” Or even casually firm: “Call us today – even on Saturday – and say, ‘I want the best water heater in town, with no money down!’”

NOTE: We used the phrase “even on Saturday” in a letter for a plumbing client who sent letters that happened to hit on Saturday. He acquired dozens of appointments in a single day, four of whom were “former” customers of his rival… even though the rival was also open on Saturday. The customers simply didn’t know it.

9. Not following up. 
Here’s a secret: If you do ONE mailing and stop, you’re giving away piles of money. A 2nd mailing with “2nd notice” or “I tried to reach you before but…” will boost your response rate dramatically. Don’t throw in the towel after one try. Buy two more stamps and get the job done. This is called “sequencing,” and we’ve used it for four years to boost incoming leads by 54% on average. Yes, I said “54%”. Sequencing and follow-ups work.

Make your Direct Mail work for you this season to bring in more leads and sales. You can target Direct Mail like no other media. You can “time” the offer exactly. And you can perform specific follow ups to boost your response even further. All of this sure beats waiting by the phone!

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Readers can get a copy of the free 16-page report, “Get More Plumbing Leads in Less Time” to help you market more effectively.  Fax a polite request on your letterhead to 334-262-1115, or email  Call 1-800-489-9099 or visit to subscribe to his free contractor marketing newsletter.

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