Direct mail, in the hands of a knowledgeable pro, can be a powerful promotion that builds booth traffic targets key prospects, generates sales leads, fills conference rooms, creates an awareness of an event and your participation in it. Or gets the word out about your products and services.

Unfortunately, most trade-show direct mail I see violates the fundamentals of successful direct marketing. For this reason, few of these mailings generate anywhere near the desired response. (How many of your mailings produce the results you want or expect?)

Here are 10 proven techniques for creating direct mail that works. Try them in your next letter or invitation and watch your response rate soar.

1. The importance of the list. Even the most brilliant package will flop if it is mailed to the wrong list. Selecting the right mailing list is the most important step in ensuring direct mail success. According to Freeman Gosden Jr., author of Direct Marketing Success, list selection is twice as important as copy, graphics, and printing combined.

For a trade-show invitation, the best list is key prospects and current customers within a 100-mile radius of the exhibit hall. Invite only those people who are genuine prospects for the products you are featuring in your display. One good source of names might be a list of people who have responded to ads about the product within the last six months.

2. Executive seminars. An even more select list of key prospects can be targeted to receive special invitations to hospitality suites, executive briefings, presentations of papers, seminars, and other special events held in conjunction with your exhibit. If the event is relatively minor, a notice about it can be included in the invitation to the exhibit. But, if the event is major (such as the opportunity to see a new product introduction) you can play it up in a separate mailing.

3. Carry cards. A carry card, mailed with the invitation, is a printed card the prospect can present at your booth to receive a small gift, or perhaps to enter a sweepstakes or drawing. I call it a "carry card" because the prospect must carry it with him to receive whatever is offered in the mailing.

By printing your booth number on the card, you remind the prospect to visit you; the offer of the gift provides the incentive to do so. The gift need not be expensive or elaborate; perhaps you offer free information, such as a special report, or an inexpensive item such as a pen or a tie clip.

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