Tag direct mail

Steady as she goes

What you say in your advertising really matters. Yes, it really does. Just as you listen to what people say and make an assessment of what kind of person they are, your customers make an assessment of what kind of company you run based on what you say to them in your advertising.

You’ve probably read somewhere that your offer is of utmost importance in your advertising. But if you look through this site, you won’t find your advertising offer mentioned much, and it certainly isn’t one of the Three Pillars of Advertising. Yet you will hear, mostly from direct marketing people, that your offer will make or break your advertising. They say, “Make a great offer and people will beat a path to your door.”

Hey, they’re right, at least in the short-term. Offer a huge discount, and you will get a response. Give something away for free, and people will show up.

But if you do that often and without reason, what will your customers think? I can tell you what I think. I think that if I wait long enough, you’ll have a sale and I’ll get it at a discount. Why buy it now when I can get it for 50% off later? I bet that’s what your customers think, too, and that’s the best case scenario. Worst case is that they think you have an outrageously high mark-up because you can afford deep discounts and freebies.

Now I’m not saying that you should never have a sale or discount your product, but you should only do so for a good reason. If your prices are too high, lower them. If you need more space in your store, then have an inventory clearance. But be careful that you don’t lower the value of what you sell by continually discounting it.

It’s tempting to drive sales by offering some great discount, but resist that temptation. Yes, all things being equal, you’ll buy the less expensive item every time. But how often are things truly equal? Isn’t it also true that you get what you pay for?

Small businesses usually can’t compete on price with national retailers, but they can run circles around the big boys when it comes to service, quality, and truly caring for the customer. Discounting doesn’t send that message, it very often sends the opposite message. Ignore the direct mail and direct marketing guys and use it sparingly.

3 Rules for Effective Direct Mail

Yesterday, we talked about the strength and weakness of direct mail. So is direct mail worthwhile? It can be if you follow a few rules. And these rules apply whether your direct mail campaign is traditional mail or email.

Get a great mailing list.

Your direct mail campaign is only as strong as your mailing list. You should have a client list. Start with that. Your past and current clients have already done business with you, so you are a known entity to them. If you do good work, they are already predisposed to do business with you again.

What about buying a list? Although the cost of a list can be fairly reasonable, I usually don’t recommend it unless you are specifically trying to generate new leads or prospects and only if you have a sufficient budget to reach them multiple times. Remember, the Three Pillars of Advertising still apply here.

Create a great message.

This is the hard part, but it is essential. A lot of businesses, led by direct mail gurus, immediately go with hyperbole. Don’t do that. If you are passionate about your product, let it show, but let the client decide if it is truly the best there is.

The next thing the direct mail gurus tell you is that you must have a great offer like a special rate or a discount of some sort. There’s nothing wrong with that, but discounts and special rates are not a substitute for a message that resonates with people.

So what should you say? Tell them what you offer, how that makes you different from everybody else, and how they will benefit from doing business with you.

If right now you’re thinking that you’re an accountant or a heating and air-conditioning company and you’re just like everybody else in your field, don’t spend your money on advertising. Instead invest some money on developing a message that will define you in your customer’s mind and propel sales. Don’t be afraid to get help, if not from me then someone else. Your marketing message is the most important element of your marketing and advertising.

Think of any purchase you’ve made recently. Now why did you make the choice to purchase that particular item over other items you could have bought? Why did you choose Verizon over AT&T (or vice versa)? Why did you choose Levi Dockers over Haggar? Or Johnston & Murphy over some other shoe? There is a reason you chose one thing over another. It might not be rational, but it is a reason nonetheless. You need to give your customers a reason to do business with you. Once you have that reason, you can create your mailer.

Respect Your Customer

You’d think this would be a no-brainer. Who wants to do business with someone who doesn’t treat you with respect? But you see this all the time in marketing.

You respect someone by earning their attention. Whatever you send this prospective client, make sure its useful to them and not just some card that promotes your business. And by useful, I don’t mean a screwdriver with your company name on it (unless you sell screwdrivers, of course). I mean give them some information that is useful in their line of business. Look at things from their perspective, stand in their shoes for a moment, and think “If I were them, what would be really helpful.” Now deliver that in your mailing. Don’t be gimmicky or manipulative (find out by calling me today!), be friendly and matter of fact.

Occasionally, I see a business that I’d like to do work for and I’ll call them up. Instead of a clever sales pitch, I tell them up front that I’m calling to solicit their business even though they don’t know me. You’d be surprised at how often I get an audience with the person. In showing them respect by being up front about the purpose of my call, I earn the privilege of presenting my services to them. You can do the same with your direct mail or email campaign. Showing respect to the person you’re communicating with goes a long way.

You can do it

If direct mail is right for your business, go about it the right way. Put together a solid mailing list, create a great message, and treat your prospective customer with respect. These are simple things, but few businesses do all three. If you do them, you’ll stand out and be noticed.

The Strength and Weakness of Direct Mail

A lot of the information on this site is geared to retail businesses, but what if you’re not in retail? Perhaps you offer some sort of service and your clients are other businesses. When you start thinking about how to promote your business, you’ll eventually consider direct mail.

The proponents of direct mail talk as if it is a 100% sure thing. And it sure sounds good. You buy the names and addresses of business owners who could use your product or service, and then send them a card or letter that sells them your services. Sounds great.

In fact, for a lot of business to business clients, or B2B as it’s called by some marketers*, direct mail is a good fit. But like I’ve said before, almost any medium can be effective if you combine it with a strong message and a sufficient frequency. So lets look at the strengths and weaknesses of a direct mail campaign.

The Upside

We’ve already mentioned the greatest strength of direct mail: it goes to the exact person who you want to reach. If you are targeting other businesses, it doesn’t make sense to advertise in media that goes out to just anybody. If the person who hears your message doesn’t run a business or holds a decision-making position in a business, the money spent to reach that person is wasted. You can have the best message in the world and reach that person over and over again, but it won’t matter if the person you are talking to cannot use your product or service.

Direct mail, for the most part, solves that problem. By sending your message directly to the person who can use your product (that’s why its called it direct mail, by the way), you spend your advertising dollars more efficiently. That’s a big bonus, and it is the greatest strength of direct mail.

This is where direct mail proponents begin the hard sell. You’ll hear about cost efficiencies, how inexpensive their printing services are, how each mailer can be personalized, and so forth.

So what’s the down-side?

The downside is summed up in one word: clutter. How many times have you asked your spouse, “Anything in the mail today?” I bet a lot of the times they answer, “Nothing today, just junk.”

What is “junk” mail?

Advertisements and solicitations.

Who sent it?

Businesses that decided that the most efficient way to promote their business was to buy the names and addresses of people who could use their product or service, and then send them a card or letter that sells them their product or service. In other words, your mailer.

Now do you see the problem? We get so much junk mail that we ignore it. Occasionally you’ll receive something unsolicited and you’ll say, “Hey, that’s kinda cool,” but not usually. This is why the typical direct mail campaign only has a 1% or 2% response rate. Now the savvy direct mail guru will say that problem is a result of a poor message, and they are mostly right. A strong message will get you more attention — most of the time.

You see, in a business, the person who the mail is addressed to is not always the same person who opens the mail. Often a secretary or assistant sorts through the mail, eliminates the “junk” — the stuff sent by people like you  — and the business owner or whoever only receives “the important stuff.”

If you are going to use direct mail, make sure your mailer is “the important stuff” and not the “junk.” That takes effort and homework, but if you don’t put in the effort, it’s simply waste.

(*I hate marketing-speak. Marketers and ad guys are supposed to be communicators, so why do we talk a different language than everybody else? When I see “B2B,”, I think of the B2 Bomber or I think that someone is too lazy to type. But that’s another subject.)

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