21 Direct Mail Mistakes to Avoid - Part 1

Sept. 30, 2016
Since the direct mail piece was HVAC related, I read it. It was one of the worst I have seen in a long time. Here is the first of two articles listing common mistakes I frequently observe in contractor direct mail.

Since the direct mail piece was HVAC related, I read it. It was one of the worst I have seen in a long time. Here is the first of two articles listing common mistakes I frequently observe in contractor direct mail.

1. Lack a Main Headline

Consumers do not read junk mail. They scan it and discard. You have an instant to grab their attention. You need a compelling headline to do it. It is the single most important copy on the direct mail piece. Yet, it is amazing how many contractors send out direct mail totally lacking a headline. Or, there are half a dozen headlines, which is tantamount to none. What is the point?

2. Leave Out Emotion

Most contractor direct marketing runs something like, “Here’s the stuff. Save money on the stuff.”

There is no attempt to stir an emotional response. Zig Ziglar said, “People don't buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.”

Zig was right. Stirring emotions, whether in the copy, imagery, or both is more likely to prompt action than presenting the stuff.

3. Feature Boxes, Boxes, and More Boxes

When contractors do include imagery, it’s usually a condensing unit, furnace, or full product array. Consumers cannot distinguish one box from another. Moreover, they do not care to. They look at your box and their eyes glaze over.

People like pictures of people. People like pictures of people who look like themselves (or at least, how they think of themselves, which is a little younger and lighter in weight than reality). Know who you are targeting and select images base on that. Or, select images that are designed to evoke emotions.

4. Market to Men

It is natural for contractors to market to men. After all, most contractors are men. The buyer, however, is usually a woman. According to the marketing research, women not only make the service decision, they control the replacement decision.

So the consumer who you place in your marketing should be a woman. The piece should be designed for a woman. The emotions you are striving to evoke are a woman’s. It changes your approach.

5. Do Not Speak Directly to the Consumer

Most direct marketing copy is dryer than an August day in Death Valley. It’s Sergeant Joe Friday writing… “Just the facts.” Dry as it is, it often leads to mushy copy that is boring and uninspiring.

Engage your target. Have a conversation with her. Speak directly to her. Be excited. Be opinionated. Be expressive.

6. Inconsistent With Other Branding

Often, contractor direct marketing is a one-off. It stands alone and is unrecognizable as something coming from your company.

When one of your customers sees your direct marketing, she should be able to tell that it is yours. There should be some consistency in the look and feel across all of your marketing and branding activities.

7. Assume Consumers Understand Industry Jargon

Most contractor marketing falls in to industry lingo. If you write about a 3 ton air conditioning, consumers think it surely cannot be that heavy. SEER, AFUE, and HSPF mean nothing to most consumers. Heck, most cannot tell you what HVAC stands for.

If you are going to use jargon, you must define it. Far better to avoid it.

8. Do Not Take Top Billing

Sometimes I have a tough time figuring out whether a direct mail piece is from the contractor or a manufacturer. This confuses consumers.

Any direct marketing should feature your brand first, foremost, and most prominently. If you need to throw some love at a manufacturer to qualify for co-op, make sure your brand takes top billing. Otherwise, find another way to spend your co-op dollars.

9. Do Not Position

To consumers, one contractor is pretty much like another and most contractors make little effort to be distinctive. Carving out a position means driving a stake into the ground. If you claim to be the mini-split expert, people may not consider you for split systems. If you claim to be the contractor for one community, people in another community may not be as apt to use you. Positioning defines you and many contractors resist definition.

Create a position for your company that distinguishes you from other companies. Make your unique selling proposition reflect your point of difference and include it in your direct marketing.

10. Market Everything

Some contractors feel the need to tell everyone about everything they can or will do. They will include commercial and residential capabilities on the same direct marketing piece.

Focus your marketing. If you do commercial and residential work, design one piece for commercial and another for residential.

Do not reinvent the wheel.  Take advantage of the Service Roundtable’s vast library of contractor direct mail templates.  Learn more at or call 877.262.3341.

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel was a co-founder and CEO of the Service Roundtable ( The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization. Matt was inducted into the Contracting Business HVAC Hall of Fame in 2015. He is now an author and rancher.