By Nancy Drexler
In marketing, the "law of 29" teaches that the average prospect will not turn into a customer until he or she has seen at least 29 marketing messages. Most of us deny that the number is really so high.
We tend to agree, however, that to get a prospect to take action based on marketing efforts, one message is not enough, but an average of 12 to 15 will usually do the trick.
Done right, a deliberate, planned, varied series of marketing messages delivered over an established period of time through a number of different media can turn a prospect into a customer. And this is called drip marketing.
The concept is based on drip irrigation, a method of watering plants and fields with small amounts of water over a set period. Similarly, marketers drip messages repeatedly until they take hold in the minds of people in the market. The theory is that the value of repetition, and a slow build, can be as powerful (if not more so) than a concentrated burst of messaging. And here is why.
Excepting new businesses, the need for merchant services is difficult to time. Some merchants only look to make a change when their current processors anger them. Many will switch simply because a salesperson walks through the door at the right time with the right offer. Any merchant who tells you no is really just telling you not right now.
Because of this, blitz marketing, which is the launching of a large, concerted marketing effort at one time (the opposite of drip marketing), runs the risk of being an expensive failure. Drip marketing, on the other hand, lets you keep your messages out there, building your brand awareness and exponentially increasing the opportunity to reach a given prospect at the right time.
Drip marketing also benefits small businesses because it delivers new customers over an extended period rather than in a sudden burst. This steady flow makes it far easier to manage resources and give new customers the attention they deserve.
And while blitz marketing requires an initial outlay of dollars, drip marketing lets you drip in money over time and recoup some of those dollars in new business at the same time you are spending them.
Best of all, drip marketing allows you to alter strategy and tactics as you go, refining your message as you get results.
Successful drip marketing requires thoughtful, careful planning.
As with all good marketing, planning a drip campaign requires a thorough understanding of your target market and how to best reach it. Using the drip irrigation analogy, think about your prospect base as a field, and consider which patches have the greatest chance of yielding profitable crops. Most of your effort and budget should be directed to that part of the acreage.
This is not to say you want to ignore less fertile patches, but the focus of time, resources and dollars should be balanced accordingly.
If you already have an extensive database containing addresses for members of a certain industry or group, you may want to tailor your entire drip campaign to that group. On the other hand, if you have an exciting new product or service, you may want to build a drip campaign around that and build lists according to likely prospects for your new introduction.
Budget can also play a major role in your planning. Your drip strategy will include a mix of media, but the specific media you choose will often depend on your budget as much as your goals.
Once you have a handle on your audience and your budget, you'll have to select the media you'll use to communicate, and the frequency of your communications.
Drip marketing can include any combination of printed materials, e-marketing and telemarketing. The key is that you use a variety of media. This will increase the likelihood that prospects will view each piece as something uniquely fresh, rather than something boring they've already seen or heard.
Using multiple media also requires different expenditures. On the print side, oversized postcards or letters can cost far less than glossy brochures, overnight packages or premiums.
Nevertheless, sending print materials does require the expense of printing and postage. If your budget is limited, you may want to use print materials more sparingly or target them to prospects in the fertile areas of your irrigated field.
Technology has created a number of new ways for us to drip market more effectively at a lower cost. While e-mails are the obvious drip method, blogs, podcasts and video clips have been merged into the multichannel mix as effective ways to get a message across. Articles or e-newsletters can also be e-mailed, and these can be made more effective by delivering targeted messages to unique audience groups.
Again, a good budget-management strategy may be to reserve higher-cost media for market segments that have the highest revenue potential, or it could be to use costly media more sparingly, with less frequent drips.
No one wants to see the same approach from the same company at the same time each month again and again.
To keep your marketing fresh and interesting, you will want to vary not only the media mix, but also the look and feel of your messages - even the content of the messages.
Whether you are marketing a single product or tailored messages regarding several products to targeted audiences, you need to be creative. Change your message based on the season or something in the news. Create new offers. Highlight new tips.
Some drip marketers will even alert their targets upfront that they'll be sending a series of messages over time, giving recipients reasons to read and letting uninterested individuals opt out before they start to consider their messages a nuisance.
It is important to deliver real value in your communications and make sure your message is useful, not merely promotional. At the same time, your brand should remain consistent from drip to drip. Your audience should recognize immediately that a communication comes from your company, for this is what creates the slow and steady building of awareness that drip marketing is all about.
Keep in mind that a fine line exists between persistence and annoyance, so make sure your prospects have an easy way to opt out, and make sure you respect their requests. At the same time, some recipients may find your messages useful or entertaining and want to share them. What marketer isn't thrilled when his or her "creations" are shared with others or kept in sight or close at hand?
Creating interesting visuals, pretty photographs or even cartoons may increase the odds that your printed piece will remain on a desk, wall or bulletin board, or be shared within an office. The same is true of e-mails. You will expand your market reach and lower your per-customer cost every time you make it easy for someone to send you the address of others who might be added to your list.
Drip marketing works because it entails consistent, well-timed messages. If you develop a full-year plan, stick to it. Put systems in place upfront that are simple to execute, so you don't have to stop running your business to focus on that next step in the campaign.
You'll need to execute an entire plan to accurately measure your success. But remember, one advantage of drip marketing is that if you don't get your irrigation system right at first, you can move your hose. So track responses carefully and, if an approach is not working, try to determine whether it is your market, your message or your media choices that are at cause. Then rethink, readjust and fine-tune as necessary.
Once you get it right, drip marketing is sure to work for you.
Nancy Drexler is the Vice President, Marketing for SignaPay Ltd., an ISO headquartered in Dallas. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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