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The Green Sheet Online Edition

June 22, 2009 • Issue 09:06:02

Marketing 101
Want a long-lasting relationship? Snail away

By Nancy Drexler
SignaPay Ltd.

New relationships are great; sustained ones are better; long-term, committed relationships are the most satisfying of all - if you're looking for profits, that is. Such is the premise of relationship marketing: The best customers are those with whom you have relationships; the best way to build said relationships is to customize marketing, based on how far your relationship with each customer or prospect has progressed.

In short, stop viewing your customers as leads or prospects, but rather as relationships in formation.

Relationships can be initiated easily via e-mail, "click here" links on Web sites or tweets on Twitter. But while these vehicles are fast and relatively inexpensive, they don't always generate high-quality relationships that make for a long and profitable future. I believe the best way to do that is to cultivate leads the old-fashioned way: through the mail.

Regardless of the opportunities the Web offers, snail mail is still one of the most effective ways to get noticed and to engage your prospects.

Consider these truths:

  • According to Deliver magazine, the U.S. Postal Service reported 77 percent of customers sort through and organize their mail as soon as they pick it up.
  • Because snail mail has none of the privacy concerns associated with e-mail, recipients are more likely to feel they are being addressed individually - and more likely to trust and respect the sender.
  • Direct mail programs can be outsourced, saving human resources.
  • A well-executed direct mail program can produce 15 percent response rates.

The trick, of course, is to create a well-executed program.

Don't start cold

Direct mail should generate warm prospects for long-term relationships. To accomplish that, your first mailing should not be "cold." If you are working off standard, purchased lists, your results will be diluted unless you have had some kind of prior contact with those receiving your mailing. Call prospects first to introduce yourself and tell them to expect a package. You will see the results improve dramatically. Direct mail will also work better if you target people who've attended the same events as you or members of groups you are in. Chances are you've already interacted with many individuals on such lists. Even if you haven't, you have common ground.

There is another way to turn cold prospects hot with direct mail: Have the material come from a third party. Consider your sales introduction letter. If you send it to names on a purchased list, it is probably not going to yield a tremendous response. But if your letter is sent from a recognized, satisfied merchant, you'll certainly see some interest.

Choose a format

A simple letter in a No. 10 envelope is considered direct mail. Postcards and FedEx packages are also considered to be direct mail. Even an expensive gift in a large box hand-delivered by someone in a bathing suit is deemed direct mail. So how do you know which way to go?

Interestingly, format alone does not determine success. Advantages and disadvantages exist for each method, not the least of which is cost.

  • Letters are fast, easy to prepare and relatively inexpensive to mail, but they don't get the immediate attention that a package or postcard might. You can improve the "notice me" factor simply by hand-addressing your envelopes. Almost all hand-addressed letters are opened, so investing the time in a bit of calligraphy will boost your results.

    Letters work best with more upscale products or audiences. And they have an advantage over postcards because they provide space to market more complicated products or services. The most important thing to remember is that, once opened, your letter has only two to four seconds to capture a reader's attention.

    If you don't simply and immediately communicate the benefit of reading further, your letter will be discarded. Increase effectiveness by limiting your copy to short, simple paragraphs with a type size of 12 points or larger.

  • Postcards can be the least expensive way to capture attention, but their size is governed by the U.S. Postal Service, and space is at a premium. Colorful, captivating postcards can garner attention, build your brand, reinforce an offer or drive prospects to your Web site. But it's highly unlikely they can do more than that. Still, a 4.25" by 6" postcard will mail at standard postcard rates, and larger sizes won't necessarily cost more to mail than No. 10 letters.

    So if you've got a large list of unqualified prospects, postcards are an effective way to "throw it at the wall" and see what sticks. To improve your odds, plan postcard campaigns in flights of three. Printers can save you money by printing three at once, and you'll reinforce your brand at a much faster rate. A pithy postcard can capture attention; three of them in a row are hard to miss.

  • Packages seem important and are rarely ignored. But even a plain letter in a Priority Mail envelope costs a good $5, so high-impact direct mail should be saved for qualified, top-tier prospects.

    Once you've decided to invest in sending packages, back up your commitment with the most compelling enclosure you can create. This can be as simple as a hand-written note attached to a brochure.

    At SignaPay, we send prospects a Zip drive enclosed in a small, locked box attached to a note that promises, "Inside this box is everything you need to grow your business. Let us bring you the key." The goal of this mailing is to get in the door and, as a meeting-setter, it's been quite successful.

Direct mail is successful when it achieves your goals. It is most effective when these goals are simple and direct: drive recipients to your Web site, get an appointment set up or generate webinar attendance, for example. The goal of direct mail is to move prospects one step further along in their relationships with you. It is not to close sales.

Repeat again and again

With direct mail, one mailing is not enough. No single postcard, letter or package will be successful on its own. You need to make a minimum of three impressions. With postcards, that is relatively simple: You create a campaign with a common look or copy approach, and mail them every five to 15 days.

That may be harder to do with an expensive package, but repetition doesn't require the same medium. Take the example of my company's box. The mailing is followed by a telephone call. If that doesn't lead to an appointment and the prospect is still considered viable, our next step is to send a letter with the key to the box enclosed.

Alternatively, we could send two or three postcards before mailing the package to generate interest and instill anticipation. Regardless of which vehicles you use, strive to "touch" the prospect at least three times. And remember, failing to close is not a failure. Keep prospects with potential in a separate database, and include them in future direct mail campaigns. These prospects are no longer cold; your effectiveness with them will only increase each time you remind them of your interest. end of article

Nancy Drexler is Vice President, Marketing for SignaPay Ltd., an ISO headquartered in Dallas. Reach her at nancyd@signapay.net.

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