Automation cerebral palsy Direct Mail Direct Marketing Marketing podcast Sales Small Business Strategy

*The* most important thing about your letter

Sad Letter
Creative Commons License photo credit: jilly~bean

Yesterday, we started a discussion about the promotion of an event here in town.

Today, we’re going to talk about one of the mail pieces that went out to promote the Brunch.

Don’t worry, this series isn’t all about direct mail. We’ll also be talking about video, email, postcards, newspaper, press releases, PSAs, radio and TV.

That’s right. Every single one of those media were used to promote the event. While I didn’t use all of my arrows (with good reason), I did use just about everything in the quiver. Different types of media reach different people.

There are so many ways to consume news these days – you’d better be using every means possible to get the attention of your prospects.

Of course, you will be measuring the response from them, so you’ll know which are worth the expense IF there is an expense.

One of the most important mail pieces that went out was sent to business owners here in town (and a few in neighboring towns). I wanted to concentrate on our little town because the benefit is being received here. It makes for a tougher sale to folks from other towns unless you have a relationship with them. More on that later.

But will they open it?

The most important thing about the letter is making sure that the envelope gets opened.

If it isn’t opened, it was a waste of time and money. If it isn’t opened, the letter inside doesn’t get a chance to go to work selling the event. That’s kind of a problem:)

In rural Montana, post office boxes are the norm rather than the exception. This holds true for residential and business addresses. People stand over the trash slots at the post office and sort their mail into 2 categories: trash and probably-not-trash. You probably do the same at home if you don’t get your mail at a PO Box.

Because of this, I used several strategies to make the envelope less likely to be tossed out:

  • A real stamp was used. In fact, a Christmas stamp (the nutcracker one). It’s a little thing, but it matters. It makes the letter appear more likely to be from a real person.
  • Each envelope was hand addressed. To make it feel even more “real”, a green felt tip pen was used. Computer printed labels might work fine for people you already have a relationship with – but with no relationship, a pre-printed label is another check mark on the road to the trash bin, even more so if there’s a postal barcode.
  • Each envelope had a little Santa or snowflake sticker placed on it to the left of the address. Again, it makes it look a little more “from someone I know”, which contributes to more of them getting opened.
  • No return address was used. You really have to be careful with this one. If you already have a business relationship with the person you’re mailing, then the return address WITH your name is important. If you don’t have a relationship with them, the return address will likely become a criteria for tossing the mail, rather than keeping it.

Sweating the details inside the envelope

Inside, the letter was just one page long, printed on both sides. The letter was folded and inserted so that the front page would be seen first if the letter was opened traditionally (with the back facing the reader).

On the left side of the front page of the letter, all the board members are listed. Many are well-known in the community, thus establishing some credibility. The letter was personally addressed – not with a standard business lead in, but just with the person’s name. No business name. I’m writing to the individual.

The greeting is to the individual, not “Dear Sir” or “To whom it may (probably not) concern”. The latter two greetings aren’t even remotely personal. You want the reader to feel that you wrote the letter just for them, even if it is printed on a computer. That’s why…

The first line noted that I was only going to take 2 minutes of their time (yes, I timed it, it was just a hair over 2 minutes). I want them to know that this isn’t going to take long. I don’t want the letter set aside for later.

At the end, I hand sign the letter.

On many of them, I made a personal note at the bottom in that same green felt tip pen, usually to suggest an item for donation but sometimes just to make the letter more personal.

On the other side of the letter is a donation form that is already filled out with their contact info. I already have it in my database, why should I force them to re-write their contact info?

Remember, make it as easy as possible…

PS: A Sticky Situation

Just a little side note on the attention that is paid to the success of mail pieces: I received a letter promoting the Breakfast with Santa in Opelousas. It was closed with a 1.5″ long piece of scotch (ie:transparent) tape. I was curious if there was some testing behind the use of tape, so I asked my friend about it. It turned out to be a productivity issue. We laughed about the fact that we pay attention to silly things like that, but it illustrates the level of thought that has to go into every aspect of your marketing message.

In this case, we’re talking about a letter, but the same scrutiny is necessary for any other media.

Be sure that you’re putting this much care into the delivery of your message – and in fact, the message being sent by the delivery itself.

Tomorrow – how could this piece have been improved?

cerebral palsy Community Direct Marketing Marketing podcast Rotary Small Business Strategy

What’s easier? Selling Santa or a SUV?

reluctant santa dog
Creative Commons License photo credit: dickuhne

Yeah, I know. It’s been a quiet week so far.

On and off for the last 9 months, and intensely over the last 2, I’ve been quietly working on the marketing and other aspects of a new community event and related program here in Columbia Falls.

The event is called Brunch with Santa, which is a new annual event held by my Rotary Club.

Yes, you’re right. It’s hardly an original name or event. Google around, there’s 319,000 or so entries for Brunch with Santa and over a million for Breakfast with Santa.  So what.

A blatant rip off

Yep, it’s something I (ahem) borrowed from the Opelousas Cerebral Palsy Clinic’s Breakfast with Santa event (yes, there IS an address behind that link that will let you send them money, don’t be shy as every little bit helps).

Back to our regularly scheduled program…

Last Saturday, our Brunch went into the first stages of liftoff. As of this afternoon, I just about have a little time to exhale for a few. So let’s talk about it.

First, I suppose it might help to explain what this has to do with Business is Personal and making your small business better, stronger and more robust?

Everything, my friends. Every little thing.

That’s why we’re going to talk about it here.

Selling Santa is much easier than selling a SUV

But…he still has to be sold.

Fact is, the process required to promote a community event is no different than the process required to encourage people to buy those 10mpg SUVs sitting on your lot, the snow machines in your showroom, or the bags of kazoos hanging from the slatwall in your party store.

The process required – in this economy, scratch that, in ANY economy – to get people to give cash, food or goods and services for an event is no different than the process that is required to sell them a steak, an oil change or a $2500 mountain bike.

  • You have to get their attention so that you get a chance to get them interested.
  • You have to get them interested in order to get a chance to build a desire within them.
  • You have to build a desire within them in order to get a chance to get them to take action.
  • And you have to make it drop dead easy to take action.

Whether it’s making a cash donation, buying a ticket, donating 150 servings of Mexican food or offering a piece of framed fine art as a donation, if you don’t follow those 4 steps – not much is happening unless you’re incredibly lucky.

Sales don’t happen because of luck.

Sure, luck works sometimes. That “sometimes” thing is the problem. When exactly is “sometimes”? Can you schedule it? Can you afford to wait on luck to work? No, I didn’t think so. Me either.

Execution of the logical, tested process is what gets the job done the rest of the time.

Some might say it becomes even more important that you treat promotion of an event as a regular marketing task when that event is a fundraiser in a community being hammered with layoffs. Those layoffs directly impact not only those families, but every restaurant, service business and retail store in town.

Maybe it matters, maybe it doesn’t. Are you willing to risk it on a guess?

So what did I have to sell?

I have to sell a bunch of stuff. Santa kinda comes along for the ride, but he’s part of the sales team.

First I have to sell the donors on the idea. Giving cash. Giving food. Giving time. Giving merchandise and services. None of these things happen without transferring enthusiasm about the cause to them.

Second, I have to sell the event to those who might want to attend it. Got all this food and all this stuff, uh oh, I’d better get someone there to consume and buy it.

Third, I have to sell the media on the fact that this event is worth promoting.

Finally, I have to sell the event again in the last 48 hours before it occurs. Advance tickets are great, but not everyone lives under in that kind of schedule. Those living in the now or in “tomorrow morning is long term” mode need reminders, and they need them everywhere.

Again, the mechanics of the process are just like selling a truck, an oil change or an exotic potted plant. The primary difference is that you can stir some emotion a bit more easily with a cause.

That’s where the trap snaps shut. People get lazy and think the cause will magically make everything else happen.

50% of success is just showing up

Someone once said 50% of success is just showing up. Could be, but the other 50% is pretty tightly linked with actually doing something.

Details matter.

Next time, we’ll talk about those details, and more importantly, the reasons that drive them.

cerebral palsy Creativity Leadership Technology

TED: Music, technology, expression, engineering & Cerebral Palsy

Today’s guest post is a video from TED2008 and shows – among other things – why university students pursue what might typically appear to be “useless” work in their graduate studies.

photo credit: kk+

The video starts to hit home at 12 minutes, so don’t get impatient and click away. If nothing else, fast forward to about 10 minutes so you can get the full impact of the rest of the video.

Think about the workplace. Coma patients. Eldercare. Automation. Industrial safety.

Joe Lazarus’ presentation at TED2008

cerebral palsy Community Direct Mail Marketing

Direct mail marketing lesson: “Breakfast with Santa”

santa-big1.gifOne of the many things my Cajun friend does (aside from an occasional interest in LSU football) is help out a cerebral palsy clinic in Opelousas Louisiana with a special event they do every December.

It’s called “Breakfast with Santa“.

He describes it like this:

We have a local cerebral palsy clinic where kids … and adults … can come to get therapy and treatment.

All the funds are donated funds. None of the kids are charged for the services.

Many of the kids who get treatment wouldn’t have it available to them anyplace else.

We put on this “Breakfast with Santa” fundraiser each year. We charge $25 for breakfast and 100% of that $25 goes towards providing therapy for a child.

Local celebrity chefs cook the breakfast, local dignitaries serve the breakfast, everything is donated, 100% goes to the clinic.

Some of the promotion for this event/fundraiser is done by direct mail. Not that boring old direct mail you expect to get from the chamber or United Way every year. No, no, Sparky.

Instead, you get full color envelopes and letters with signature fonts, Santa images, and calls to action on the outside of envelopes. It’s done at a time when most businesses wouldn’t dream of dropping a big mailing, fearing that it’d get lost among the holiday cards. Or they’d use the “people are busy” and similar excuses some business-to-business folks use to avoid marketing their products and services in December (if not November).

The reality is that direct mail in the 6 weeks before Christmas is just as effective then as any other time of year, IF the proper ingredients are in place.

These include a well-crafted letter (offer) and call to action with things to get your attention (color, signature fonts, angled text, photos of the kids being helped).

All these things make the letter stand out from all the inept direct mail crap you get in your box every day – the reasons that most people think direct mail doesn’t work. Those colors, signature fonts, etc are the tools that turn the mailing into what Dan calls ‘A pile’ mail, ie: mail you’re gonna open before you open the bills. If you’re keeping score, “B pile mail” is bills, “C pile” mail is crap that hits the trash can before it even gets opened.

I suggest you send 25 bucks to the clinic if nothing else so you can get the thank you letter, a direct mail (much less web) marketing lesson all by itself (the lesson is the bit of blue text at the bottom). I won’t show it to you here, you’ve gotta earn the right to see it by sending them some cash.

Send your check (made out to the clinic) to:

Breakfast with Santa
Opelousas Area Cerebral Palsy Clinic
PO Box 70
Opelousas, LA 70571-0070

In return, you’ll get a thank you letter that will be well worth the $25, plus you’ll have helped some kids who need it.

Merry Christmas.