Competition Direct Mail Direct Marketing Marketing Positioning President-proof Retail Sales service Small Business Strategy

President proof your business #2: Drizzle on the absolute best

Even though President-Elect Obama’s staff has started to take shape (and the hand-wringing has begun), you shouldn’t think of “President-Proofing” your business as something specific to him.

Sure, some things will be different in an Obama administration than in a McCain one, but the things you have the ability to exert control over are largely insensitive to the personality sitting behind the Resolute desk.

One way of President proofing your business is to simply do more business. Obviously, we talk about a number of additional ways to attract (as opposed to chase) new clients, but one we haven’t ever discussed is that of the ripest fruit.

The ripest fruit might not be the best term for it, but bear with me. I’m talking about the clients you would simply LOVE to have. Surely there’s a list in your head of 1, 2, half a dozen or 100 of them.

You might not have 100 on the tip of your tongue, so let’s talk about the process.

If you were asked to choose the absolute best group of people (if you run a consumer-oriented business) or absolute best businesses (if you run a business that serves other businesses) that you don’t currently have as a client, but would be thrilled to have as new clients, who would be on your list?

Yes, I’m suggesting you make a list and that you expand your thinking a bit. There are all kinds of ways to qualify for this list.

Will they be a high-profit or long-term repeat client?

Will they be a client who will result in other people flocking to your business, simply because you can say they are your client?

Will they push your business into a new market for the products and services you already sell?

If you own a retail store, maybe you do some wholesale or online selling as well, so don’t forget those. If you own a service business that primarily serves consumers, don’t forget that some businesses might need your help – sort of like an quick lube oil change shop might do all the vehicles for a city, a county, or a business with a fleet of cars and trucks.

This technique works better as a way to attract businesses than it does to attract a consumer type of client, but it will work for both if you put some thought into the next piece of the process.

Putting the list to use

Once you have this list, make it a part of your daily schedule to learn as much as you can about the businesses / people (be polite, please) on your list. Maybe you or your assistant spend 15 minutes a day researching the people on this list, but do it. Schedule it.

Even if we’re talking about attracting a business – there’s still a person you must attract. Businesses don’t buy stuff. People do.

Begin contacting them regularly – but not with a pile of sales stuff, no matter how good it is.

Create a system for researching, contacting and continuing to casually drizzle pertinent, helpful information on your prospect list.

Your system might include some of these steps – and might include ones I haven’t listed here:

  • Add them to your print newsletter mailing list. DO NOT start emailing them a bunch of stuff, even your email newsletter. Your print newsletter should refer to it so they can sign up if that is one of the ways they prefer to get info.
  • Every week or two, send them a hand-written note or card – NOT a sales pitch - that includes something important or meaningful to them. This might include an article in the paper or on the net about one of their staff, themselves, their business, one of their customers or a family member. It could be something as simple as a snipping of something out of a paper from across the state that talks about a cousin. It might be as simple as a web page about one of their customers, or about their industry, accompanied by a short note that says you thought they might be interested.
  • Maybe you don’t know their cousin, but you see a similar name from the same hometown as theirs in their hometown paper. Cut it out, send it to them with a note saying you were guessing they might be related and if so, hope they enjoy the snip from that local paper.

Expand on this as it makes sense for the type of person or business you are courting. DO NOT chase them. Simply “be present” with information helpful, interesting or pertinent to them.

You want to be seen as a valuable resource to them, not a pest – this is particularly true for consumers. If your marketing to this group of people was a rainstorm, it wouldn’t be a driving, windblown drencher, it’d be a fine drizzle.  

Add this as just one of the ways you attract new clients to your business. Why not go for the clients you’d really like to have? Someone has to serve them. Why not you?

Once they respond, then they should become a part of the funnel or process that your marketing system takes them through to guide them to being a client.

There’s no need to wait for the inauguration. You can start working on this today.

Automation Competition Direct Mail ECommerce Employees Management Productivity Restaurants Retail Sales Small Business Strategy systems Technology

Are you missing the point of automation?

Last week I received a phone call from SendOutCards, whose service sends personalized postcards and greeting cards â?? with pictures if you like â?? simply by pounding on their website for a moment.

First of all, kudos to them. They were just calling to see if I was getting what I needed out of the service and wondered what – if anything – they could do to help me.

Why kudos? Because SO FEW actually make the effort to do this.

Yep, that’s a not-so-subtle hint.

The downside of the conversation was that I blindsided them with my request.

It’s important to clarify that I really like the service â?? they even let me create a font of individual letters using my handwriting, so that the text I type into the website is printed in my writing on the card or postcard. This includes several variations of my hand-written signature so I can sign the cards any way I want depending on who the recipient is.

The disappointment is that the service lacks the ability to let you automate the delivery of what they produce.

You can import a list from your Outlook or whatever, but that isnâ??t automation. Itâ??s manual and a pain. Plus it’s a duplication of data – bad idea.

Once youâ??ve imported contacts, you can setup a series of cards or postcards or notes to go out over a period of days as you like. Setting it up is a little bit of a pain, but it works.

Then the trouble starts. There is no automated way to update the contacts when their contact info changes on my systems, much less to add or remove them. It’s 2008 folks, this stuff is commonplace and simple to implement.

Also – when you have 9400 customers, you don’t have them in Outlook and you don’t want to manually import and categorize them using a web interface.

Their goal SHOULD be to make it as easy to send cards and postcards as they possibly can, since their profit depends on two things: the revenue from sending cards and postcards, and the exposure they get to new people who receive those cards and start using the service on their own.

As it is now, it isnâ??t real automation. Automation occurs when things happen automatically because something else happened, manual or otherwise.

I tried explaining this to the vendor and gave them a few examples.

If I have an online store that sells stuff, I’d want my online store to automatically send a thank you card with shipping info in it. A month or a week or whatever (depends on the product) later, I’d want to send a follow up thank you that asks for a review, comments, makes sure they are happy with their purchase, etc.

That just scrapes the surface of needs of that type.

Random customer behavior: bad idea

Another example: Let’s assume that Iâ??m performing a service or selling an item to customers who come back intermittently. Your internal point of sale and invoicing system should have the information needed to produce a list of â??Who hasnâ??t been here in 30 days?â? (or 60, or whatever).

If youâ??re on top of this situation, someone is currently printing out that list and having someone mail them a postcard, or a note, or calling them to see if theyâ??re doing OK, need an appointment, etc. Or SendOutCards could be *automatically instructed* by your systems to send a reminder card or what not to try and retain this customer and get them back into the store, office, etc.

If you arenâ??t on top of this sort of thing, youâ??re simply waiting on the random behavior of your customers to return to your business – exactly the kind of thing SendOutCards is designed to assist you with.

Smart businesses DO NOT depend on the random behavior of their customers. Instead, they show up (and/or deliver) “Just before just-in-time”, as Don Ferris says.. They also make a point of reminding their customers to come back / purchase / do maintenance (or whatever) when it’s best for the customer… without being an annoying nag about it.

By now, you should have asked yourself what you can be doing in this area. Here are a few questions to ask yourself about your business:

  • What do your customers use every month?
  • What do they own that requires maintenance every quarter?
  • What happens TO THEM if they don’t come back on a regular basis?
  • What happens if I lose track of changes in their personal situation (if B-to-C) or business situation (B-to-B)?

If they arenâ??t buying or maintaining those things on that basis, every day they wait is costing you money *and* it could cost them money too.

Oh yeah, back to that every 30 days list.

What if your systems were automated and knew to send out a postcard (not one of those lame ones from the corporate office that no one reads) when someone should have an appointment coming up? And the system knows not to mail one if you already have an appointment scheduled in the next few weeks.

And it knows to email the right person in your business 10 days after the postcard is mailed to remind them to call that person if and only if they donâ??t have an appointment (or haven’t made a purchase).

This isnâ??t rocket science, but the vendor didnâ??t seem to get how valuable this was not only to me, but to their bottom line (ie: more cards get mailed, more people are exposed to the vendor’s service).

Creativity Customer service Direct Mail Marketing Positioning Small Business Strategy Word of mouth marketing

The High Art of Paying Attention

Most of you probably saw a brief mention here in the blog that I became a grandpa for the first time a mere three weeks ago today.

This is one response that shows me someone is mastering the fine art of paying attention. It arrived in my mail on Saturday with a letter, and was wrapped in a pastel tissue paper.

In part, the letter said “This latest blend only gets produced with love on a rare and special occasion….Sit back; enjoy a great cup of coffee while watching your new grandchild discover all that life has to offer. Congratulations!!!”

That is the high art of paying attention.

Were you paying attention? Let’s see.

How many of you put that date in your Outlook, phone or customer database? Yes, I’m assuming I’m there for what should be obvious reasons.

Why would you do such a thing?

  • Not because you’re going to send her a card next year.
  • Not because you’re driving to Missoula next summer to attend the 1st birthday party.

Nope, if you did it, it’s because it’s smart business.

Next summer in mid or late July, your reminder system should tell you to mention her 1 year birthday to me.

Not because she’d recognize you at the party, but because you know its important to me.

If you’ve been reading for a year, you should know my birthday (or at least the week), and anniversary months. You should know quite a lot IF you’re paying attention.

And your clients… What do you know about them?

If you are paying attention, you should know their spouse’s name if they are married. You might know their anniversary, birthday month (or the date itself). You might know what college they went to, or what town they grew up in, and what their favorite sports teams are.

You might know that their spouse is a scratch golfer and volunteers at the food bank on Tuesdays. And each one of those things is something your lazy competitor wont pay attention to, much less remember or do anything about.

Likewise, each one of them gives you a chance to do something inexpensive, but special, whenever it makes sense. It gives you something to talk about with them that they’re interested in and will start them talking in earnest about something important to them.

Paying attention isn’t being nosy. It helps you make the relationship you have with your client MORE personal, without going through their medicine cabinet.

Suggested reading on this topic: Harvey Mackay’s Swim with the Sharks (without being eaten alive)

Advertising Direct Mail Marketing Small Business systems Technology

Direct Mail Mistakes That Cost You Money

Several of my clients use direct mail for the obvious reasons – it works. Like a chainsaw in the hands of the skilled artisan, the results can be amazing.

Or they can be downright awful.

Common mistakes people make when using direct mail:

  • Talking about the wrong thing
  • Not knowing your numbers
  • Making assumptions
  • Not segmenting your mailing

Let’s look at each of these direct mail mistakes (yes, they could also be made in other media).

Talking about the wrong thing

You might remember a project from several months ago where we talked about political candidate websites and what you can learn from them and their signup processes.

I’m still on all those lists, mostly so I can see what techniques they’re using.

One of the candidates keeps emailing me at the end of each month, asking for a contribution and reminding me that the campaign contribution reporting period ends the next day.

As if I care.

I’m a voter, or in small business terms, a prospect.

I don’t give a flip about campaign reporting periods. I care about issues and what a candidate is going to do about them – something rarely (if ever) mentioned in detail in their contacts.

You wouldn’t offer to talk about AARP to a teenager. Why would you contact your prospects and talk about something they don’t care about? Don’t do it.

Not knowing your numbers

Before you stick that thing in the mail, you better have way to track who responds and of those who respond, who orders.

Yes, I mean keep track of and take action based on: How many you mailed, how many the mailing caused to respond, or how many of those who responded actually bought.

Making assumptions

In particular, making assumptions about the relationship you have with the person you mailed to.

I received a piece of mail not long ago that was personalized and made reference to things I had done in the past with this entity, yet made a slew of inaccurate assumptions about our relationship.

The result? The mailer hit the trash before I finished reading it.

You wouldn’t steal a kiss at the front door as you picked up someone on a blind date. Don’t make assumptions about the relationship you have with those you are mailing to.

Not segmenting your mailing

If you were doing the mailing for Ford Motor Company, would you send the same brochure to everyone in the country?

Of course not. But you probably do it with your mailings.

  • The same people who buy a Mustang Cobra are not likely to be buying an Escape Hybrid.
  • The same people who buy a F350 Diesel are not likely to be buying a Probe.

And yes, it is possible a family might have both, but your mailing’s goal shouldn’t be to sell BOTH, or you’ll end up sending 300 million identical mailers out and getting 0.0000001% response from them.

  • You send the camper and boat owners, construction business owners, farmers and similar businesses info about the heavy-duty diesel trucks.
  • You send the Mustang Cobra mailing to successful people in the right income brackets and age groups (if you are Ford, you know exactly what those brackets / groups are).
  • You send the Escape Hybrid mailing to people who subscribe to Mother Earth News or Money, as well as kayak owners in the Pacific Northwest. But only those in certain income brackets.

You segment your mailing rather than rain huge piles of random paper down on their heads that do little more than empty your bank account.

Advertising Competition Direct Mail Management Marketing Small Business Strategy

Spend more than they do on marketing, but do it properly.

It brings joy to my heart every time I hear a competitor of mine or a competitor of one of my clients complaining about postal rates, or how much they spend on marketing.

“Keep on whining”, I think to myself.

Every time someone else stops mailing newsletters because postage went up – that’s more room for me and my clients. In fact, sometimes I bring it up just to start the conversation topic rolling. Maybe I’m a little mean that way:)

Every time someone looks totally at the cost of their marketing and not the ROI and stops running an ad that is working (assuming they even know), that’s more room for me and my clients.

What they miss is that if you can logically justify spending more because you know your numbers, then you are going to kick their butts while they are digging in the couch for change.

If you are doing the right things, you can spend more on marketing and still make more profit.

In marketing dollars, if you know what a lead costs you and what a new client costs you, you can make better decisions about spending those dollars.

If you know how many leads come from this source vs that source, then you can make better decisions about where to spend those dollars.

If you could put a dollar into a marketing slot machine and get back $1.19 every single time (on average), how much money would you put in that marketing slot machine?

Every dollar you could find, right?

That’s the power of knowing your numbers and using that information to spend your competition into a coma.

Of course, if you have no idea which ads work, and how well, and what they cost to run per lead and what they cost to run per client, well, then you might have reason to complain about the cost of stamps, or whatever media you use.

Competition Direct Mail Marketing Small Business

42 cents for a stamp? Run away, run away!

Los Monty Python españoles
photo credit: Arkangel

Apologies to Monty Python with that “run away” thing, but it’s a good example of the talk in some business circles this week.

Once again, I hear people talking of abandoning direct mail. You know, because of the 1 cent postage increase. 1 cent. A 2.4% increase.

Tell me…for 42 cents, where else can you get something delivered to the home or office of a specifically qualified prospect, without running afoul of anti-spam laws, anti-fax laws and so on?

If you aren’t taking the care to segment your mailings and send them only to the most qualified people for your offer, then you deserve to be pouring Forever stamps down the drain. Just remember, you didn’t learn carpet bombing direct mail tactics from me:)

Honestly, I love it when I hear others in my market talk about the “expense of direct mail”, because I know they are cutting back on it, leaving another gap in the market for my clients.

Wendy over at the Wall Street Journal brought up the postage increase this week and asked what businesses were doing about it. Some got it, some didn’t. One commented that the costs could add up. Sure. So can the return, if you know what you’re doing – and testing. And measuring response.

Over at the Huffington Post, a reader pointed out someone making fun of direct mail as an out of style waste of money for political candidates. No question: BAD direct mail is absolutely a waste of money, whether it’s sent by a business or a political campaign. Most political direct mail is horribly done (but not all of it).

However…Done right, direct mail is still incredibly effective, but hey, don’t listen to me, keep thinking about that extra penny.

Somewhere in heaven, Dick Benson must be shaking his head with disdain.

Automation Corporate America Customer service Direct Mail ECommerce Email marketing Marketing Small Business Software Technology

Does your small business send personal emails?

Back in January, Denny Hatch was discussing some emails he received: some personalized, some not.

I wanna hold your hand
photo credit: batega

Would you rather receive this (his example):

Date: 14 Jan 2008 03:58:31- 0800
From: â??Ticketmasterâ?
To: xxxxx
Subject: Event Reminder: Young Frankenstein

Ticketmaster Event Reminder
Hello Denison Hatch. Your event is happening soon!
Young Frankenstein.

Friday, January18, 2008

Hilton Theater
213 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036

Or this:

Dear Valued Customer,

On behalf of the hundreds of Delta Global Sales professionals dedicated to serving you and your travelers worldwide, â??Thank You!â? for choosing Delta as your preferred airline

To Delta’s credit, they no longer send me “Dear Valued Customer” emails, they got a clue sometime after I posted that and started using my name. I don’t know if the blog post had anything to do with it or not. I mean, sure, I know that automated systems sent the email, but someone, somewhere at Delta had to write the template. A real person. Presumably, that person was charged with writing a personal note to a client whose business they appreciate.

However, there are dozens of other businesses that continue to send me “Dear Valued Customer” emails.

Credit card companies. Utility companies. Car dealerships. Clothing and outdoor gear vendors.

The fact that Ticketmaster was smart enough to send a reminder email was pretty cool. People are busy. We need reminders, even if we have a Day-Timer, a PDA, a smart phone, a spouse, Outlook reminders and a personal assistant.

The fact that Ticketmaster made the email timely and personalized made it seem real, as if a person typed it.

Would Denny be as impressed if he received the email after the show? Or if it said “Dear Valued Ticketmaster Customer” or similar?

This doesn’t just extend to emails. Same goes for letters, postcards, phone calls, packaging, shipping info, and so on.

How many contacts in your business touch your customers personally? How many are annoying, impersonal Dear Valued Customer grams?

What would you rather receive from the businesses you frequent?

Direct Mail Email marketing Marketing Small Business Strategy

Direct mail? Old school, yet dead tree ROI continues to please

Email is “free”, notwithstanding the copywriting, measurement tools, ISP issues with delivery and a few other things.

With “free” comes your favorite target – spam email.

You can afford to send 100,000 emails without testing – though the smart ones do not. On the other hand, most can’t afford to send 100,000 direct mail pieces without testing FIRST.

I can assure you that those who can afford to send that much direct mail each month would never do so without testing first. No question, direct mail has it’s share of issues – most can be solved with smart mailing (as opposed to carpet bombing).

So while newspapers and magazines see falling advertising inches, direct mail continues to grow – because done right, it works.

And lookee here, even the Wharton School of Business says direct mail works (archived pdf here).

Just one example: Those “silly little 4 page print newsletters” I create get places that the same content will never get via email.

How do I know? Because newsletter clients tell me this every month when I call for the next month’s snippet of content. They say things like “I can’t believe how well these things work.” I hear it over and over again – and best of all, no one else in their market has a clue.

Competitors sure wont duplicate the effort. Too lazy. Too busy stepping over dollars to pick up dimes.

Whether I do it for you, or you do it yourself, just flippin’ do it. Measure it. Go to the bank. Repeat.

What are you waiting for? You have Wharton’s permission.

Advertising Direct Mail Internet marketing Marketing Media Small Business systems

How to measure advertising response in any media

measuring advertising response (or in this case, a plane's tail)

Recently, I received a few questions about measuring advertising response so I thought I’d cover that a bit today.

The measurement and use of the results you record is one of the most important things to do when advertising – at least once the ad has been created for a particular target market.

Question: Why can’t all ads produce a response?

Very, very few ads pull nothing, but I have heard second hand of a business that mailed 20,000 direct mail pieces and gotten nothing for their trouble.

However, as I hear it, their mail piece was poorly done and was mailed to anyone with a heartbeat, so they sorta “deserved” that result.

In any audience, there is a percentage of people ready to buy (and thus, your timing is good), another percentage thinking about it, and the rest in various modes of not caring, not being interested, caring but not having a need or want at this time, etc. The key is motivating the 2nd and last groups to buy.

Question: How do you eliminate the process of testing ads and culling the non-performing ones?

The key isn’t to eliminate it, but to always test what you’re doing so that you can make decisions based on information rather than gut feel.

If we mail 1000 pieces, we might mail 333 people one letter, 333 people another letter and 334 people another one. Next time we mail, we’ll know which is the best producer. After that, we might mail 500 of the winner and 500 of a new challenger. You should always be trying to beat the current best performing ad you have in each media for a particular type of prospect.

If we place 20 radio spots, we’d alternate 2 or 3 spots in each time slot we select so we know which one works in that time slot (ie: different audiences, assuming they should all be “target rich” audiences). As each day goes on, we might adjust the spots that play in a slot based on the response we’re getting.

Question: Isn’t ad testing a very expensive process?

Depends on how you do it. If you try to contact everyone with a heartbeat instead of focusing on a personal, contextually important message for that prospect group, it can be very expensive, not to mention seriously unproductive.

For example, you wouldn’t likely send the same mail piece to opera lovers that you would NASCAR fans, for obvious reasons. Sure, there will be some exceptions (people who like both NASCAR and opera), but you aren’t worried about the crossovers. You’re worried about completely missing the boat with your message to one group or another.

Question: So how do I measure response on a mailer, newspaper/magazine ad, radio ad, email or website?

I could go on for pages about the details of this, but the bottom line is to do at least one of two things so you can tell exactly which ad they are responding to:

  • Create an offer that is specific to the ad.
    Ever notice how TV ads ask you to ask for a specific operator, department or send you to a website that has what seems like random numbers in it? That’s why they do this” so they know which ad you are responding to. They want to know which time slot works and which ad works, among other things. A particular price, quantity or product name can also indicate which offer you chose (and thus, which marketing effort you responded to).
  • Create a mechanism for contacting you that is unique.
    A different phone number (800 numbers are easy to use for this, because they forward to another number). A different fax number. A different web address. Google Analytics codes on your URLs (in emails, for example). A different email address. A special page on your website. A department number, or a contact name, ie: “Ask for Harry”. You can give them some sort of reference that gives them access to a discount or bonus, such as “Tell em Tiger Woods sent you”.
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.