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Direct Marketing: Frequently Asked Questions

The following questions were submitted by Staples.com users like you. Sales and marketing expert, Rick Segel, replied with the following answers.

Target your direct mail campaign

Q: I plan to have a major end of the season sale at my clothing boutique and would like to send out invitations. I was thinking of an upscale direct mail campaign, sending out actual invitations for a specific time when the sale will only be available to invitees. Should I buy a direct mail list or send out invitations to people on my house list? I have the names, addresses, and email addresses of about 100 customers.



A: The most important thing that a retailer can do is collect names of customers, and unless you have only been in business for a few months, a list of 100 customers is not enough. The number one source for retail marketing and advertising today is direct mail, and I include email in that description. YES, you should absolutely send out to the 100 names that you have. However, if those customers are good regular price buyers, that does not mean they will become great "sale buyers". A sale buyer is a different breed of person. Therefore, it is important, as you collect your names for your database, to try and filter your list to create a database of sale customers only.

The most important thing that a retailer can do is collect names of customers, and unless you have only been in business for a few months, a list of 100 customers is not enough. The number one source for retail marketing and advertising today is direct mail, and I include email in that description. YES, you should absolutely send out to the 100 names that you have. However, if those customers are good regular price buyers, that does not mean they will become great "sale buyers". A sale buyer is a different breed of person. Therefore, it is important, as you collect your names for your database, to try and filter your list to create a database of sale customers only.

To answer the question of buying names for your sale, YES you should. You do not have enough of your own names to have a substantial sale. Therefore, in order to do a successful direct mail campaign, you should purchase a list from a reliable list broker. You can filter the list by zip code, income level, even by magazines your customers subscribe to, and credits that they own. Bear in mind that the more filters you use, the more expensive the list will be. You will now have a wonderful opportunity to gather names of sale customers for future sales, by simply saying on your invitation to please register for a valuable gift, a drawing for a $100 gift certificate, or an hourly drawing for a $25 gift certificate. Whatever incentive you use, the goal is to capture those names to be recorded on a database of sale customers.

One last note in relationship to the type of invitation. The most effective direct mail sales vehicle is still a simple letter written in 4 or 5 very short paragraphs, with key words underlined in each paragraph and a P.S. at the end of the letter. The P.S. should be to register for the drawing or whatever incentive you decide to use.

Choosing the right mailing list

Q: There seem to be dozens and dozens of companies out there that sell mailing lists. I want to buy a list, but I'm afraid that the addresses will be old, or the list won't have all of the information I need. What's the best way to judge list quality? Are there any telltale signs that scream, "this list is a dud"?



A: Without seeing an actual sample of the list that you are ordering, it is very difficult or almost impossible for the occasional buyer to decipher good from bad. Because of that fact, you should try to request a sample listing, or order the smallest amount allowable, and never buy a reusable CD of the list until you have had some experience with this list. In other words, get the list in your hands, and the things you want to look for are duplications, obvious errors such as zip codes with 6 numbers, no street addresses, but mainly duplications.

The companies selling lists today are mainly brokers. Although list generation companies, such as magazines and other data collection sources, will sell their lists directly, the majority of them are primarily sold by list brokers. Just as any other brokerage relationship such as a stock broker, real estate broker, or even travel agent, the more knowledgeable the broker is, the more valuable they become. It is very difficult for the untrained person purchasing a list to know the experience factor of the list. This means how often the list creation source cleans their list, deletes bad names, or updates information.

The problem that many of us have is that we will have a tendency of going to large brokerage firms where our representative is based almost on the "luck of the draw". Therefore, the telltale signs that scream out are the same telltale signs that scream out in the other brokerage relationships. How much experience does the broker have? Did they just graduate from high school, go through a 2–week training program, and were told what to sell? Or do they have a feel and an experience in the marketplace as to which lead generating services are cutting corners and which ones are not? Don't be afraid to ask the experience level of the person you are doing business with.

Many times, smaller list brokers are a great source because, as in any business, they were successful at a large shop and went off on their own. This does not mean that the larger list houses are all bad. It just means that you need to find someone who has experience in the types of lists that you are buying. And don't be afraid to ask!

Creating a brochure

Q: I would like to print up a one page brochure to market my company. I'd like it to be very compelling, but I'm not sure exactly what to include and in what order. Company history? Testimonials? Graphics and photos? Some kind of offer? In your opinion, what are the absolute includes?



A:  There are three things you want to accomplish in a brochure. You want the person reading your brochure to have a feeling that you:

  1. Have the ability to do the job
  2. Will create a feeling of security that the job will be done and done right.
  3. Are the type of company or person that a prospect would want to do business with.

Therefore, it is important that the look and overall feel of the piece cry out professional. You mentioned a one–page brochure, which is fine, but is it going to be folded twice to create a tri–fold brochure or just a flat sheet? The benefits of the tri–fold brochure are that it looks more professional. The separate panels created by the folding allow you to highlight different sections of the brochure. Remember, it is not specifically the words or graphics but rather the feel and overall look of the piece that will make the reader act. The greatest photos and copy won't save a brochure that is poorly laid out and printed on paper that wasn't meant for a brochure.

As for what order you should place the different elements or what area should be emphasized, obviously that will depend on the industry and how long you have been in business. Are you stressing your potential or your accomplishments? Are you the new hungry aggressor on the block or are you the safe secure seasoned professional. Only you can answer that question. Having said all of that, I generally would weigh the importance of the three points I mentioned as a bell shaped curve: 25% to your capabilities, 50% on your ability to get the job done right, and 25% on the type of business you are.

Use testimonial quotes and pictures as much as possible but you want the quotes and photos to say the things you can't say about yourself. List the services you offer, then if appropriate your degrees, certifications, awards, educational background, etc. Next, discuss your reliability and this is also a good place to give a short company history. State your commitment to the customer and even print a pledge or a guarantee. Lastly, talk about your commitment to your industry, community, and the world around you. People and companies that give back and care are companies we tend to trust.

As for offers I would save that for another piece. It can be given out when you distribute your brochure but NOT in a capabilities brochure. As for graphics and pictures, only use them to further the message you are trying to convey or increase the professional feel of the piece. The right words with a graphic enhancement work fine, but if the photo or the graphic have no relevance, it will be wasted. Great headlines per section create compelling pieces. Lastly, there must be a perfect balance between feel and substance. Beautiful pieces that don't draw customers are losers. The sad part about that is we get attached to them as if they were our children. We never know exactly what will work and that's why it is important to print very small quantities until it is tested and proven.

Postcards versus sales letters

Q: I would be using postcards as an introuctory tool and I will follow up with a phone call, the purpose of which is to schedule an appointment. Would using a postcard in this scenario be a good idea, or should I stick to letters? And, what bullet point would I like to make since my space is limited?

I am in the staffing industry.



A:  Postcards can be effective only if the postcard has a real attention grabbing headline or message or a visual that knocks your socks off. Creativity is king here, otherwise the card ends up in the circular file faster than you can say "please read me." Postcards done right can work, but I would opt for a letter in this scenario and there is a specific type that is a sure fire winner. It is a concept called modified long copy. This type of letter has the following elements:

  • 5 paragraphs consisting of 4 to 6 lines.
  • Each paragraph has a key phrase that is underlined and typed in bold. The phrases should always be benefit focused.
  • The letter must have a P.S. which should also be underlined and in bold print.
  • When the reader opens the letter the first thing the eye will notice is the business logo. Then the eye goes directly to the P.S. and proceeds to read the highlighted sections from the bottom to the top. They rarely ever read any other parts of the letter.

I don't know why this works but the concept has been used very successfully for almost 14 years. It is a concept that is used by many sales promotion companies but has been crossing over to almost any type of communication vehicle.

If you want to spice the letter up a little, you might want to extend a free offer with some type of response vehicle such as a fax back sheet or a business reply card. The best type of offer is generally some type of educational product, such as a report or a study or even an audiocassette or CD. These reports or tapes don't have to be long but they must have value. Even if your response for the offer is only 2% (it's usually a little higher for a free giveaway), that's 2% more than you would have received without it.

Yellow pages versus direct mail

Q: Hi: I have a home–based aquarium maintenance business. I was wondering what your opinion for the best advertising $$$ spent might be. I have an ad in the yellow pages (SWBYPS). We also have 2 other phone books in the area, but aren't in them. Does direct mail pay off? We service tanks in Dr's offices and homes. Thanks for your input.



A: Direct mail is generally the #1 advertising vehicle you can use. However, in this case, I would recommend the following:

The goal is to establish yourself as the expert and what you need more than anything is to establish some type of credibility where there is not a lot of visibility. I suggest that you run a 1–column by 4–inch ad in your local newspaper in the following format.

The first line should say, "Ask the Aquarium Pro". Get a small picture or caricature of yourself and place it in the upper right hand corner. Beside the picture, put your name and the title "Aquarium Maintenance Professional".

A question and an answer will follow such as, "How often should you clean the tank?" Then you give your answer. Underneath that you put your logo and your contact information. Ideally you should run this ad once a week. However, depending on your budget, every other week would work as well using a different question and answer.

By running the ad on a long–term contract basis the cost of the weekly or bi–weekly ad will be greatly reduced. This type of advertising will build your brand and your reputation. Once you have run four of these ads, copy them on a piece of paper and do a specific direct mail campaign to doctors' offices.

As for the ad in the yellow pages, don't add the additional directories. Keep the present one only. Test the results from the newspaper ad, direct mail, and yellow pages, and see where the business is coming from. Then you can make adjustments in your advertising budget based on these results.

Mail merge software

Q: I need mail merge software that will combine a form letter with about 300 names and addresses for my direct mail campaign. What software do you recommend for this mail merge function and can I download this online if possible?



A:  There are plenty of off the shelf software packages that sell for under $50 that would allow a merge with a form letter for your campaign. But before I would invest in another software package, check out the software that you are presently using on your computer. If you are running ACT!, or any other similar contact management program, or Microsoft Office, these functions are already there. Do some exploring before you buy.


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