Advertising Business Resources Direct Mail Direct Marketing Email marketing Internet marketing Marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Positioning Small Business Web Analytics

How to get results from newspaper advertising?

This has been in the queue for a while, and the source of the discussion is, which I’ve read regularly for years (yes, that’s a hint).

While there are some good points in this piece, some parts of it read as if it was written by a Yellow Pages salesperson (not traditionally a person experienced in running a small business, nor in results-oriented marketing).

Here I quote the author’s advice (which isn’t all bad) in plain type and include in bold my thoughts on their “6 fundamental points”.

  1. People buy based on familiarity. That said, the primary value of advertising is branding and name recognition. In other words, you cannot control timing â?? when a person needs what you sell â?? but you can heavily influence who they think of first. This means that you should not invest in any advertising media unless you are willing to commit to a minimum of six months, and preferably a year, of consistent, repetitive messaging to your targeted demographic. Print publications are still king when it comes to reaching the local audience â?? but people need to see your message repeatedly if they are going to remember you when it is time to buy. We’re familiar with a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean we buy them. Give me a compelling case to buy, not “familiarity”.

    No question that timing advertising to purchase time is difficult (exception: search-based advertising), and no doubt, you can and should be invested in influencing who people think of when they consider what you sell (what I call “top of mind” positioning). Consistent messaging to your targeted demographic is part of creating that top-of-mind positioning. This is one of the reasons I remind you to consider using direct mail (among other things).

    But to claim that newspapers do such targeting is crazy in most cases. Further, the implication that you shouldn’t expect success for 6 months to a year is unacceptable. In some markets, large papers (often via national newspaper insertion service vendors) have successfully used insertion technology that lets you target demographics quite narrowly. In most markets, this kind of targeted marketing is not available to newspaper advertisers.

    The real shame is that this kind of targeting does not extend to display ads or classifieds, though given the nature of newspaper print technology, it is understandable. The large service vendors I mentioned above are not built to service your local town daily or weekly newspaper.

    Newspaper advertising performs best in small communities. The why should be obvious and it explains the numbers you see on the continued success of weekly papers vs. big city dailies.

  2. Mix up your marketing channels. Print publications today are the only media resource that can provide you with multiple reach products â?? print ads, inserts, online campaigns, Post-It notes, specialty magazines, etc. â?? in ways that are customized to attain specific marketing objectives.The “only” resource of multiple reach products? Direct mail houses, web designers, email vendors and a number of others would be surprised to learn that. You don’t “mix up your channels” just for the sake of doing so. You choose them strategically. Who reads that? Who watches (and when)? Who listens to that (and when)?

    Each media/each piece, while integrated with the overall plan/message still needs to perform. It still must be measurable and produce a desired result (financial or otherwise). It still must make an offer or induce the next desired behavior.

  3. Work with a qualified expert. A skilled, well-trained newspaper ad rep can replace your need for an ad agency by providing well-designed, targeted ideas to attract new customers to your door â?? at no additional cost to you. While it is true that using their design department can save you some money in the short term, newspaper ad reps are primarily concerned with design from a designer / artistic perspective. Sure, the agent wants you to come back and buy more ads (see #1 above) so they are tangentially vested in your success, but they are not typically well-versed in direct marketing, and have rarely owned their own business. The mindset is important.

    Small business owners know that results are what matter over all else. Winning ad contests and design awards mean nothing if the ad DIDN’T produce an acceptable ROI.

  4. Utilize a combination of print and online media. Contrary to conventional wisdom, newspaper readership is not declining, it is simply migrating. More people are reading the newspaper than ever before; the growth in readership is coming from people who are reading the news online instead of in a print product. The point? Newspapers still deliver excellent results, but you must advertise in both print and online to attain maximum reach of your message. Depends on who you are trying to reach. This has traditionally been the difficult thing about newspaper advertising. They have largely been unable to deliver (and thus charge) for ads (for example) that should be sent only to married women 35-55 with a household income of $xx,xxx or more. Instead, they charge a lower rate to advertise to a large portion (or all) subscribers with very little if any targeting.

    In many cases, a zip code, a specific section or a certain day of the week is the best you can get as far as targeted marketing in much of the newspaper world. In some cases, it’s all or nothing. That’s OK, but you must take that into consideration when designing your ad, much less deciding whether or not to place it.

    To business owners that understand and leverage direct marketing and expect more than the tired “1% is typical” response, the inability to target specific types of readers is not acceptable.

    As for the assertion that readership isn’t declining, ask your newspaper to show you Google Analytics to back up their claim that they are recovering lost print readers via *their* online site. Don’t take no for an answer. Ask for references, as you would with any other advertiser.

    Pick a few ads for similar markets and be sure to choose those whose ads are sized much like yours will be. Call them and pin them down. Ask them if their ad is performing, but don’t settle for “yes”. Ask what the return on investment is. Ask how many new customers the ad brings in each issue (or each week). What are your criteria for calling the ad “successful”?

  5. You will get much better results by running a smaller ad for a longer period of time than by running a large one for a shorter duration. When budgetary constraints are an issue, the duration of the campaign is of paramount importance.In general, I agree with smaller ads for a longer period vs larger ads for a shorter period, but the duration of the campaign isn’t the paramount issue. If you put $10 into an ad and get $20 back each time, wouldn’t you want to run the ad until it stops working? Producing results is what matters.

  6. When using online advertising, always include a link to your website in the form of a â??clickâ? button, and include a special offer in your message. This serves as a portal to drive traffic to your website. A button and a text link should both be tested (response varies depending on the audience). The ad’s job is to get you to do the next thing – click through. The page where the click through goes had better be a specific landing page for that ad’s offer, NOT the home page of the website.

    The landing page is your responsibility. The link is theirs, so make sure they include the right analytics parameters and landing page address so that you can measure response, know exactly where it came from and present the proper in-context offer that matches the ad that the prospect clicked. If the paper wants to send clicks to your main website page, they don’t understand online marketing.

  7. During your ad campaign, change your message every four to six weeks, but always include your logo, and maintain a consistent look to your messages. This serves to reinforce your brand. Remaining consistent is fine as it concerns your logo and look (think “Apple”). However, changing your message just because the calendar says so is foolish. There are successful marketing campaigns that have been in use for decades with only trivial changes after initial fine tuning.

    If your ad is returning 20-30% ROI consistently over a long period, why would you change it just because the calendar said so? When you make changes, test them. Every single one of them. Always be trying to beat the current “best performing” ad, not simply swapping it out because you’re tired of it.

  8. Newspapers employ highly skilled design professionals who create thousands of ads for customers â?? at no cost to you. Work closely with your advertising rep and their design team to create high-quality copy that you can utilize in other marketing efforts for your business. Yes, the newspaper does usually have highly-skilled design pros, but are they highly-skilled / trained in direct marketing as well as graphic design? Hopefully so. Would you rather have an ad that wins design contests or an ad that brings in 10x what it costs each week? Id prefer both, but I’ll choose the 10x response if I can only have one of the two.

  9. Take advantage of appropriate special sections as a â??booster shotâ?? to your overall ad campaign. This is an inexpensive way to reinforce your message in a product that has a highly targeted audience and an extended shelf life. Make sure your message and the audience fit the ideal audience for the special section. Ask for placement in the section that complements what you’re selling.

  10. Be patient. Look at any quick sales that you make as a bonus, but not as the primary measurement of advertising effectiveness. Recognize that it takes time to build brand recognition, particularly if you are a new business or are entering a new market.Horsehockey. This is about setting low expectations so they can sell a long ad placement. There’s nothing wrong with a long ad placement that works. Your ad, your offer should be compelling enough to create business the day it appears. If it doesn’t, then it needs work.

  11. Finally, remember that it is the newspaperâ??s job to bring new customers into your door; it is your job to keep them. Word-of-mouth marketing and repeat customers are the lifeblood of your business. These do not depend on advertising; they depend on your ability to provide an outstanding, memorable experience to your new customer. Advertise to bring them in, and the rest is up to you. Couldn’t agree more.

(end of point/counterpoint)

If you think I’m anti-newspaper, keep in mind that I write a successful newspaper column. I’m not anti-newspaper (and in fact, was recently involved in a successful newspaper insert campaign). However, I am against wasteful, ineffective advertising.

Make your advertising decisions for the right reasons so that you can advertise even more. When you can afford to advertise more than your competitors because every advertising dollar produces positive ROI, you’re on the right track.

Customer relationships Direct Mail Direct Marketing Email marketing Internet marketing Marketing Small Business Strategy Telemarketing

Right message, right person, right timing

Recently, someone came to my website and went to the trouble to paste this message into my contact form:


My name is Ben Bigelow and I am currently working with the Cisco TelePresence team. We are working in conjunction to create awareness for the recently launched â??Why I Want Cisco TelePresenceâ? video contest at

This new contest is designed to entice individuals from around the world to submit their ideas about why or how they would like to use Cisco TelePresence.

Winners in two categories, Productivity and Shaping the Future, have a chance to win $3,000 each. Winners will also receive 5 hours of Cisco TelePresence at a Cisco Location (www.ciscomeetingonus) to connect with colleagues, peers, friends around the globe.

It would be great if you are willing to post about the video contest and encourage your readers to create their own videos.  They donâ??t have to be Ridley Scott or Cecil B. DeMille â?? all they need is a home video camera, some passion and a tad of creativity.  Most digital cameras can record short form videos, and the site is set up for easy uploading and includes a simple pass along feature.  We appreciate anything you can to help raise awareness for Cisco TelePresence and how it benefits entire organizations.


They included their name and what appeared to be a real (albeit non-Cisco) email address. The IP address even resolves to the same town where Cisco’s headquarters are.

But what didn’t they do?

They didn’t bother telling me what Cisco Telepresence is.

They didn’t describe the problems it solves, reminding me of the pain I’m in telecommunications-wise, and why I should be interested in finding out more, much less spending some money with them.

Instead, they asked me to make a video about a product I’ve never heard of. Makes absolutely no sense.

It’s not WWII

If I was already a Cisco Telepresence user and perhaps a product champion in their eyes, this message might have made sense.

Instead, it just felt like a German WWII bomber flying over dropping plane loads of pamphlets from 10,000 ft that explain how I’ve lost the war (you know, as I march on Berlin).

Don’t do that.

Take a close look at the marketing messages you’re sending out, regardless of their cost.

Are you sending the right message to the right person at the right time?

Are you sending a message that is in context with the relationship you currently have with that person?

It doesn’t matter if the message is delivered via email, telephone, tv, radio, newspaper, magazine, Twitter or whatever – the problem is the same if the message isn’t fine tuned for the situation.

Competition customer retention Direct Mail Direct Marketing Email marketing Internet marketing Marketing podcast Positioning Small Business Social Media Strategy Technology The Slight Edge

What makes the phone ring in any economy?

Princess on the Phone
Creative Commons License photo credit: Yogi

There are no secrets around here.

I am busy as crap. Some weeks, so busy that I’ve had to let the blog slide a bit (Horrors!)

I’ve made it quite clear that I expect “well-behaved” readers to be contacting their clients, customers and prospects at least once a month – and not simply to say “Whaddaya wanna buy?”

I’ve also shown that I do this in a number of different ways, using a number of different media.

Why different media?

Different strokes for different folks

Because some people like email, some like using Google Reader, some prefer audio podcasts, some prefer video (still working on that one), and still others prefer direct mail. And so on.

Likewise, some of media is about access and exposure.

Not everyone has (or wants) access to radio or RSS or email or whatever. Are you willing to give up an awesome new client because they aren’t into Twitter or RSS feeds or email?

I’m not.

Just the other day, someone emailed me to ask me about doing some work for them on a big project they’re working on.

They don’t read my blog. They don’t get my print newsletter. They don’t listen to my radio show (or podcast) on iTunes. They didn’t find me on Utterli.

They found me through my newspaper column.

Their comment was this: “Though we are strangers, I feel Iâ??ve gotten to know you fairly well through your weekly articles”.

I’ve never met them, never talked to them, yet they feel they know me.

How much of advantage do you think I have over competitors that they don’t know?

Ideally, my competition just sits around getting splinters from the bench. They never get a chance to take a swing at this work if I have anything to say about it.

The Temptation

The temptation with communication like this is to depend solely on email because its cheap.

That’s a big mistake.

Why? Because cheap only reflects your cost. It doesn’t reflect the results. Cheap ignores the return on investment (ROI).

If you want cheap and you don’t care about results, you can get yourself 50 million email addresses for $30, but you probably won’t make a sale to more than 50 of them (depending on what you sell). Worse yet, by emailing them – you’ll end up on every email blacklist there is.

If the result is your focus, then you should be thinking “I only want to use the media that have a great ROI”. In that case, I might suggest some slight adjustments (ie: don’t use just 1 media regardless of the ROI), but otherwise you’d get no argument.

The lesson

A long-time client of mine recently switched from printed newsletters to email (still using my service, just a change in media). I suggested *adding* email, not using it as a replacement.

One of the first response emails he received from a client and good friend was “I don’t have time to read another email every week”.

That same person has demonstrated (through their actions/responses) that they do have the time to read a 4 page printed newsletter once a month, yet an almost immediate reply email said they just don’t want more email.

I made note of that irony to the client, pointing out that his client’s reaction to yet another email is a great illustration of why printed newsletters just plain work.

His reply: “No kidding.”

What makes your phone ring?

Where do your customers/clients/prospects get their information? What do they use to consume the news? That’s how you should be providing info to them.

Competition Direct Mail Direct Marketing Email marketing Internet marketing Management Marketing Real Estate Regulation Restaurants Retail Sales Small Business

Are your testimonials illegal? Will they be?

Even if you aren’t using REAL testimonials in your ads, you should be. I believe we’ve talked about that a few times.

If you are using testimonials (again, you should be – I can’t nag about that enough), then you might be interested in some changes that the FTC is considering. They’d like to keep a closer eye on what people say about the things and services you sell.

As the CPSIA situation might suggest (and I think I’ve made it more than a suggestion), you have to be more vigilant about keeping track of changes in laws and regulations that can impact your business.

To that end, I suggest you slide over to the FTC notice of their Federal Register request for comments about the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising. Here’s the 86 page request for comments (pdf) from the FTC.

EIGHTY SIX PAGES? Yeesh. But you gotta do it, if nothing else to avoid another CPSIA-like experience. The PDF is on my reading list for the weekend. If I find anything ugly, I’ll be sure and make note of it here – HOWEVER, you need to check it over to see if your business is impacted.

Rather than get caught being less than vigilant as many were by the CPSIA, I suggest getting on top of this before it becomes law. The deadline for comments is January 30, 2009.

It appears that the changes are common sense, but I strongly suggest you check it out for yourself – one person’s common sense is another person’s “One lamp or two?

A quote from the FTC notice:

In the newly approved Federal Register notice, the FTCâ??s proposed revisions to the Guides address consumer endorsements, expert endorsements, endorsement by organizations, and disclosure of material connections between advertisers and endorsers (emphasis mine). On the issue of consumer endorsements, the proposed revisions state that testimonials that do not describe typical consumer experiences should be accompanied by clear and conspicuous disclosure of the results consumers can generally expect to achieve from the advertised product or program.

UPDATE: One of the reasons that we get these kneejerk reactions from Congress that hurt everyone is that there are still unethical vendors out there doing things that ought to get them slapped to the gutter. Things like this, for example. Thanks to Jeff for the heads up on this story.

Direct Mail Direct Marketing event marketing Marketing podcast Sales Small Business Strategy

Selling Santa with postcards

Four Cowboys
Creative Commons License photo credit: anyjazz65

Last week we talked about the direct mail letter that was used to secure donations of cash, in-kind items for the auction and to attract people to attend – as well as what could have been improved in the letter.

I left a few things out of the discussion at the time, so lets get back to them.

We started with some small but focused lists and I want to discuss how those were used so that you can think about the various customer groups you have in your business.

Two of the lists we had came from the organization who was the primary recipient of our fundraising efforts. They had a list of donors and supporters as well as a list of families receiving services at the two closest locations to our town. One of the locations is in our town, the other is 14 miles away so I only used the families who were local for the mailing.

I sent the same postcard to both lists because all I really wanted from them was attendance. The donors of this organization do not need to be confused by my sending them a plea letter asking for donations on behalf of an organization they already support.

If I had done that, the natural response would have been “Why is org A asking for donations for org B when I already give to org B?” I just want them to show up, buy a ticket and bid on the auction.

The families were a different story – I could have asked them for help – but knowing the demographics of the group, I really just wanted them to buy a ticket, eat and visit with Santa. We wanted them to learn that Rotary was helping their family, not just asking them for $. The best way to make that happen was to get them to the event.

As a result, I sent the same postcard to both lists. I used, primarily because they had the turnaround time I needed, plus the price was quite good for an oversized glossy 4 color postcard.

I uploaded my PDF and address list, it cleaned them and I paid. Over and done with in short order and I didn’t even have to lick a stamp.

You might be asking why a postcard? Why didn’t I hand address *these*?

I used a postcard because it doesn’t have to be opened and my message was relatively short.

I didn’t hand address them and mail them myself because postcards are open by design. I don’t have to work to get them opened, instead I can concentrate my effort on making them effective. I couldn’t do that with the donation letter because the message needed to be longer and required a donation form.

Almost forgot… The postcards were timed to arrive within 48 hours of the event.

Automation Direct Mail Direct Marketing Improvement Marketing podcast Positioning Retail Rotary Small Business Strategy

Help! What’s wrong with my mailing?

Yesterday we talked about the details about the envelope and letter we sent to request Brunch with Santa donations and to sell tickets.

There were (in my opinion) a lot of things right with it. BUT…what was wrong with it?

Keep in mind it is perfectly normal to find things that are wrong with a mailing you just dropped at the post office. There’s a big lesson there: We didn’t wait to mail it until it was perfect. You just can’t do that.

If you wait until your campaign is perfect, you’ll never mail it because it’ll never be perfect. It’s like waiting until the perfect time to have a baby – there’s no such thing.

That said, there is always room for improvement. Maybe there’s a better way to state it rather than “what’s wrong?” is “How can I make the envelope and the letter even better?”

Slice em and dice em

One thing that I advise customers (and readers) to do is segment your mailing. Some might look at the letter sent to chamber members and think that I did – but that really isn’t the case.

The people on this particular mailing list fall into a couple of distinct groups: blue collar services (construction, auto body, auto repair, custom logging, trucking), white collar services (attorneys, accountants, bankers, computer consultants, real estate sales, graphic artists), hospitality businesses (restaurants, caterers, hotels, motels, bed and breakfast inns) and traditional retailers (clothing, food, auto parts, tires, coffee, etc).

What changes would segmentation bring?

If I broke that list down into the four segments I mentioned, it would allow me to make several important changes. I didn’t do so this year simply because of time pressure.

For blue collar service businesses: I would likely use slightly different verbiage that is more in tune with their businesses and would have made a more specific ask. Like the others below, the ask would be for items or services that are most likely to get the business a new customer. In their language, specific to their needs.

For white collar service businesses: I’d use some different verbiage, a different ask – more specific to the services they offer and keeping in mind that I want a donation that helps them get a new customer – and some slightly different psychology. Again, the language used would be in tune with these kinds of businesses.

For the hospitality businesses: Again, specific language to their business. In fact, I would likely split this group into food-related and non-food-related because of the differences in what I would like to get in donations, differences in industry language and COGS. For the food biz, I’m trying to create an opportunity for them to make an impression that brings new customers to their restaurant or catering service. That happened this year as well – I didn’t simply ask for a donation. I offered them an opportunity to promote their business with the best they could bring to the table. Positioning is important.

Other thoughts

I would like to have a bit more automation in place to deal with generating specific responses, logging auction assets and so forth. I’ll be working on that throughout 2009. While that automation will be somewhat specific to the Brunch, it is designed to work with any campaign – and with multiple media. It might become a system that you can buy.

A blue collar vs white collar mental image

Speaking of blue collar and white collar services, I’m reminded of an interesting way that Ford Automotive’s Social Media guy Scott Monty described the difference between white collar workers and blue collar workers: “people who shower *before* they go to work” and “people who shower *after* they go to work”. Paints a pretty clear picture, doesn’t it? You can follow Scott on Twitter.

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?

Direct Mail Direct Marketing Email marketing Internet marketing Marketing Media podcast Sales Small Business Social Media Web 2.0

Ignore those 2 posts. Direct mail is dead. RIP.

With all that direct mail talk over the last couple of posts, I can just hear the eyes rolling.

After all, direct mail is dead, right?

Perhaps in your market it is. Or, no one needs to use it because other things work better in your market, or because everyone in your market uses it poorly.

Regardless of the reason, if you’re convinced that direct mail is irrelevant – or at least no longer useful – in your market, those last couple of posts were a big waste of your time, right?

Psst…Think about them again, but replace “direct mail” with “email”. Or “face to face sales”, “telephone”, “television”.

Likewise for radio, newspaper ads and any other media you use to communicate with your clients and prospects – including Twitter, blogs, video and other social media tools.

After all, if this message wasn’t carefully crafted to be of use to you…you wouldn’t likely be here.

Each of these tools are simply another way to have or start a conversation with a person.

Never, ever forget that.

Advertising Direct Mail Direct Marketing Management Marketing podcast Small Business Strategy

A few exceptions for those 5 direct mail mistakes

Our discussion from a couple of days ago (yes, the last 2 days were insane!) about direct mail mistakes was far from complete. We could discuss tools, techniques, strategies and such about direct mail for days, maybe longer.

None of us have time to do that, but I do feel obligated to elaborate on the five direct mail mistakes and discuss some additional issues on these topics.

Stamps vs. Indicia

While I don’t recommend the use of indicia, if you carefully plan your use of indicia, you can get away with it.

For example, if you’ve already established a relationship with a client and you’re sending a monthly newsletter, using bulk mail indicia makes financial sense IF you’ve cleaned your list using CASS software (or a service) or if you’ve mailed to that list in the last 2-3 months using a stamp.

I recommend to clients that if they want to use bulk mail indicia, they should do so on a quarterly rotation for a monthly newsletter. IE: first month, use a stamp. In months 2 and 3, indicia will be OK as long as they are updating their list with the return/change info that comes back on returned mail from month 1.

A different type of mailing might require a different plan, so don’t assume that my newsletter mailing postage rotation schedule is perfect for every kind of mailing. It isn’t.

Deliverability is still a concern, so again, make sure that this mailing isn’t something that’s going to assure your ability to make payroll this week:)

Sending the same mail to everyone

The only exceptions to this that I can come up with are things like “Hey, I’ve sold the company and I’m moving to Costa Rica” letters. I’ll be testing this in the future:)

Measuring Response

I really can’t imagine a day when I wouldn’t mention this. Except for the Costa Rica letter. That’s one that I wouldn’t care about measuring. But…the buyer should.


One of the things I didn’t have room/time to mention in the 5 mistakes post that it is CRITICAL to make sure that you don’t look like a putz by sending the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th mail pieces in your mailing sequence to a person who responded to the FIRST mailing.

It sends such a message that you aren’t paying attention and that the mail isnt…personal. Put things in place so that you can avoid doing this – it’ll pay for itself in postage and printing saved, much less in aggravated clients and your reputation among them.

Response percentage vs ROI

Russ took me to task – a little bit – about my assertion that response percentages are meaningless, noting that “response rates indicate how well your campaign is working“.

It depends. If you get a 20% response, but you lose money on the campaign, did it work?

On the other hand, he noted that “All responses count, even the â??take me off your mailing listâ? requests (data that shows how to increase the quality of your mailing list!).” which I completely agree with.

All in all, we agree but from perhaps different perspectives.

First, you have to keep in mind that a mailing’s goal might not be directly financial – ie: it might not be a sales piece. In that case, your ROI is measured by asking yourself: “For this customer, did the mailing piece accomplish its goal?”

And in that case, the response percentage might prove to be of the same usefulness as the ROI.

In fact, I made that comment about response rates being meaningless in hopes that someone would challenge me on it (thanks Russ).

ROI *is* still most important, but response percentages are one of the things that you simply have to sweat. You have to test (that goes back to the measuring issue) carefully so that you can determine what improves response.

For example, you might test to see what the difference in response is between a letter with a printed, barcoded label and one with a hand-written address, for example. Assumptions are cheap. Testing is accurate.

And then there’s conversion – but that’s another whole set of discussions on its own:)

Advertising Direct Mail Direct Marketing Management Marketing Marketing to women Motivation Personal development podcast Small Business Social Media

Do you make these 5 direct mail mistakes?

It’s easy to burn through a lot of money mailing the wrong way. Here are five common mistakes that businesses make when sending sales materials through the mail. Don’t make them:)

You don’t use real stamps

Your direct mail pieces – of any kind – should be using regular first class stamps most of the time.

While I will admit that I use CASS bulk mail postage for some newsletter mailings (at client request to save postage), this happens ONLY after having sent at least one mailing using a real first class stamp.

Why? 3 reasons: Deliverability, address service and speed

If this excerpt from “Privatizing will improve mail service posthaste” doesn’t help, I’ll clear it up in a minute.

As journalist Jonathan Franzen recounted in a detailed portrait of Chicago’s postal crisis in the New Yorker last year, a letter carrier helping a coworker start his truck in a post office parking lot stumbled onto 100 sacks of undelivered mail in the rear cargo area. Chicago police in 1994 found 200 pounds of relatively recent mail burning beneath a viaduct and 20,000 pieces of vintage mail (some pieces dating to 1979) in garbage cans behind the house of a retired mail carrier. Last May, Chicago firefighters found 5,670 pieces of flat mail and 364 pounds of bulk mail in the attic of postal carrier Robert K. Beverly. And in October, Washington firefighters discovered four truckloads of mail in the apartment of postal carrier Robert W. Boggs

Other than because of postal workers like this guy and because of post offices like the Chicago one described above, a first class stamp in conjunction with a valid return address (sort of) guarantees you a returned mail piece with a corrected current address, or an indication that you should remove that name from your mailing list.

Speed. Bulk mail is not guaranteed to reach your destination anytime soon, if ever. In fact, isn’t guaranteed at all.

One last aspect of this: Choose your stamps wisely. Mailing to women? Use stamps most women would like.

Mailing to NASCAR viewers? Use stamps that fit their profile. Patriotic? Cars? Think about it.

Not making sure that mail only goes to the right people

Sending the same letter to the entire population of the United States: Bad idea.

Sending the same letter to your entire client list: Bad idea.

Are all doctors the same? You know… chiropractors (yes, that was intentional), heart surgeons, thoracic surgeons, dermatologists, general practitioners, podiatrists, sexologists, psychiatrists, ophthalmologists, and so on. They all need malpractice insurance, medical office software, furniture, etc.

Are all mechanics the same? Is a diesel mechanic the same as a HVAC mechanic? Ditto for single engine airplane mechanics, heavy equipment hydraulics mechanics, boat mechanics, jet engine mechanics, or …

Are all painters the same? Home painters vs automobile painters, detailed “pimp my ride” paint artists, industrial painters, high rise building/tower painters, and so on.

If you were trying to sell each member of these groups accounting services, a website, tools, furniture or rubber bands, would you have the same conversation with them?

Not likely.

Is it more work to create different sales materials for different groups of people? Sure.

Is it more profitable? Almost always.

“Almost?” – What kind of comment is that? The kind that leads to our next mistake…

Leaving out a way to measure response

If you can’t measure it, you’d better not mail it. Otherwise, how will you recognize what works and what doesn’t?

Failing to send another mailing to the same person for the same thing

Yes, I mean follow up.

But how many times should I mail stuff to my mailing list? When do I know to stop?


Getting a 1% response to a mailing is your goal

You’ve undoubtedly heard that 1% is an average response for direct mail.

Or maybe you heard 2% is what it takes to make a profit (h*mm, like $0.01?).

Or you’ve heard some other number.

Forget them all. Percentages mean nothing. Return on investment is what you care about.

If you spend $100,000 a month to mail 100,000 pieces of mail (yes, per month) and you get 1 sale, that’s a response rate of 0.00000000001% for each mailing.

If you’re selling $2500 custom trailer hitches for big expensive RVs, you have a big problem. You’re spending $100,000 a month. Even if you sell every lead, you’re spending $100,000 to get $2500. Unless there’s a pretty successful upsell process, or very large lifetime customer value, this just isn’t wise.

On the other hand, using the same numbers, if you sell boats – especially boats like these – then selling 1 of the 56′ boats per month is a ROI of somewhere in the neighborhood 13 times your investment. In other words, if you average 1 boat sale a month from your mailing, you’re spending $100k to get $1.3MM. Seems like a good idea.

In both examples, 1 response was the result of your mailing that month. The response RATE in both was the same. A terrible 0.00000000001% per month. Yet the ROI for the boat example was 13 times the investment.

A loss of $100,000 or a gain of $1.2MM cost $100,000, despite one response.

This happened despite both mailings having the same response rate. Don’t fall for the 1% trap. Or even the 2% trap.

Those are the common direct mail mistakes that come to mind for me… What other direct mail mistakes always jump out at you?