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Surprise! Direct Mail Isn’t Dead!

Thursday, March 17, 2011
By Mollie Neal

In an effort to cut expenses in this tough economy, many micro-business owners have slashed their marketing budgets. Others are trying to promote their businesses through e-mail and social media.

Meanwhile, some savvy micro-business owners are returning to old-fashioned direct mail and they’re reaping rewards by generating sales.

Magazine and newspaper readership is waning, and e-mail boxes are inundated with promotional messages. As the economy tanked, credit card issuers and other companies notorious for flooding mailboxes reduced their direct mail efforts by as much as 70 percent.

Experts agree that these trends point to a new opportunity for micro-business owners to capture consumer attention through direct mail. The U.S. Postal Service estimates that 98 percent of individuals bring in their mail the day it’s delivered, and 79 percent sort through it immediately. Here’s how to grab their interest.

Use Postcards

Purchasing large lists and sending mass mailings is an outdated marketing tactic. Today’s successful direct mail users find inexpensive ways to send personalized messages targeted to customers and select prospects.

After all, postcards cost just 28 cents each to mail. And with today’s technology, it’s easier and cheaper than ever to create professional postcard mailings.

Vendors such as PostcardMania, Vistaprint and FedEx Office offer user-friendly online services. You can easily upload your photos and logos into templates that meet postal regulations. Or you can select from thousands of images the companies have available. Experienced reps frequently offer free help with everything from copywriting and creative design to list services, printing and mailing.

Since these suppliers get discounts for specialized addressing formats and sending mailings in bulk, you may even save money on your postage.

Three Keys To Success

“Selling is all about making the right offer to the right person at the right time,” says Dean Rieck, owner of Direct Creative, a full-service direct marketing firm based in Westerville, Ohio.

These three elements, if executed correctly, could lead to more inquiries, appointments for services or sales at the cash resister.
  1. The List

    “The list is the most important element,” says Rieck. “You can send brilliant advertising with appealing offers, but if it’s not reaching the right people, the mailing will fail.”

    Response rates for mailings sent to current or previous customers or those who have demonstrated an interest in a company’s products or services are typically higher than messages sent to prospective customers.

    A house list can be compiled simply by asking customers at the point-of-sale or after providing a service to sign up to receive special offers and discounts.

    Prospect lists can be rented from brokers. Available selection criteria such as age, income, ZIP code and other factors help pinpoint individuals or businesses that are most likely to respond to your mailings and offerings.
  2. The Creative

    “Think of your postcard as a billboard,” says Neil Raphel, president of Raphel Marketing in St. Johnsbury, Vt.

    It should have a simple yet attractive design. The layout must be easy to read and understand in just a few moments.

    “It’s also important to use your logo, company colors, taglines and other elements that people associate with your business.”
  3. The Offer

    “It’s not enough to simply announce your business and tack on a phone number,” Rieck says.

    The key is creating a compelling offer that has a perceived value so that people respond.

    Rieck urges mail users to incorporate strong headlines and power words such as new, now, guaranteed, announcing, how to, easy and fast.

    It’s wise to test a variety of offers to learn what resonates with your recipients. To encourage sales, Rieck suggests trying introductory pricing and early bird or volume discounts. Offering free information, samples, demonstrations, consultations, assessments or subscriptions are popular ways to generate inquiries.

    Always include a specific call to action such as phoning the office or bringing the postcard into your store during a designated period. And don’t forget to include your address, phone number or website so people can easily respond.

    Coupons are a safe bet in mailings, too. In 2009 budget-conscious consumers redeemed 27 percent more coupons than in 2008, according to a study released by Inmar, a company that processes coupon transactions.

    This is the first time in nearly 20 years that coupon redemptions have increased, and experts predict the popularity will continue.
Real-Life Postcard Success

Curtis Lewis, owner of Curtis J. Lewis Fine Jewelry, uses an online postcard vendor because his mailings are targeted, quick to produce and they help him develop a loyal customer base beyond the store he maintains in the Manhattan jewelry exchange district.

As he travels to jewelry shows throughout the region, he invites all customers to sign up for his mailing list. Lewis sends 3,000 postcards every two months. He lists upcoming shows he’s attending and includes an offer to save $10 off of a $50 purchase. Sometimes he includes free entry to the show.

Visual interest is key for Lewis. He photographs select pieces, whether they’re special designs or the latest jewelry trends. He uploads the pictures, text and the list to his online vendor, and the postcards are printed, addressed and mailed within days.

Lewis estimates the revenue generated from each mailing is five to 10 times the cost, which totals around $700. In addition to immediate sales, customers often bring postcards to his exhibit months later looking for specific items. They also contact him for engagement rings, custom designs and other special purchases.

After testing a variety of marketing practices with little success, Richard Contardi now relies solely on postcards to promote his business, Sharp Bookkeeping Service in Point Pleasant, N.J.

“I have tried networking, telemarketing, yellow books, newspapers, radio,” Contardi says. “You name it. I have done it.”

Now he regularly sends 10,000 to 20,000 6-inch-by-11-inch postcards offering a free consultation and rates starting as low as $75 per month. The mailings are sent to rented lists of small to medium-size businesses with less than 100 employees located near his office. Each mailing costs between $3,500 and $7,000 and brings in about five new clients, which typically translates into $35,000 in revenue over time.

Contardi has learned that it can take time to turn a prospect into a customer.

Fortunately, a pinpointed mailing list and consistent efforts have paid off. Direct mail has been so profitable that Contardi has hired five employees to keep up with the increasing clientele. He also moved the business out of the house into a larger office space. In fact, he says he’s had to “turn off” his marketing efforts a couple of times because the business couldn’t keep up with more growth.

Ken Benshish and Yi Qian, co-founders of iSchool of Music & Art in New York, built their business on direct mail. Twice each year they send 40,000 postcards to high-income households with children. They target specific neighborhoods within select ZIP codes to boost enrollment at their two Long Island studios where they offer art and music lessons.

Classes quickly fill up with 20 to 30 new sign-ups at each location. More importantly, each student typically refers three friends, so 30 responses translates into nearly 100 new students, says Benshish.

“We probably wouldn’t be in business if we relied on any other media.”


Mollie Neal
likes receiving postcards with money-saving offers from local businesses.

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