Tightwad Marketing

How to get more from your mailer: a Tightwad Marketing primer

© John Kuraoka, a project of www.kuraoka.com

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Two advertising mailers of equal weight and size cost the same to send, right? Wrong. In fact, one may cost you many times more, in missed opportunities, lengthened sales cycles, and reduced credibility. These things grind away your profits and add onto your costs.

It pays real dividends to look at your direct mail ads objectively, with an eye toward refining your message and improving your results. So, how do you make sure youíre getting the most out of everything you mail?

First, understand that the effectiveness of a mailer depends largely on two things: the quality of the mailing list and the quality of the offer. Without a good mailing list, the best offer is wasted. And, without a good offer, the best mailing list only gets your mailer thrown away by better-targeted potential customers. Thereís a third key element, which weíll address in a minute.

Letís discuss the mailing list first. As a general rule, the colder your mailing list, the more explaining and coaxing your direct mail piece must do in order to motivate action. Conversely, the more-familiar the recipient is with you and your product or service, the shorter the piece can be.

Imagine that youíve received two mailers for pizza delivery. One is from the company you usually order from. The other is from a new pizza place. One mailer just has to remind you of your positive experience and make a decent offer. The other mailer must do a lot more persuading, quickly differentiating itself in a relevant way and delivering a compelling offer. It has a lot more work to do, and will probably need more space in which to deliver an effective advertising message.

Thatís why the best source for a mailing list, is your own customer base. Not only are those people already favorably inclined to deal with you, but you can use cheaper media choices, such as postcards rather than larger mailers.

Often, those engaged in professional services can collect a ďwarmĒ mailing list by offering a free report or other information for people who respond to a small classified or online ad. If you do this, try to offer a choice of several reports or informational products. This way, the responses give you immediate data about where your potential customersí interests lie. That data can help you develop stronger, more-relevant offers. Also, you can promote the other reports or products in follow-up mailings. For example, an accountant might offer a choice of reports on tax planning, college funding, retirement planning, or estate planning. The person who requests a report about college funding is probably in a very different space than someone who requests a report on estate planning.

That brings us to the offer. Your promotional offer must be relevant. One of the best ways to develop a relevant offer is to test several. Thatís the beauty of direct-response today, whether in postal or electronic form: the level of flexibility in messaging. On a low-tech level, just split your run between two different offers. Which pulls better, $2 off a deluxe, or $4 off a supreme? You donít know until you test.

However, I prefer promotional add-ons to discounts. Discounts usually cut your profit margin more than giving away bonus products or services. Plus, add-ons expose customers to additional products or services that they might not otherwise sample, leading to future upselling opportunities. Finally, free add-ons let you work in that magic word: free.

So, the question becomes this: which offer pulls better, $4 off a supreme pizza or two free toppings? $3 off a deluxe car wash, or a free tire detailing? $30 off a tax preparation, or a free investment analysis? Which offer gives your business a better return on your advertising investment?

Then, keep testing. Which pulls better, two free toppings or free bread sticks? $3 off a deluxe car wash or a free upgrade to the supreme service? A free investment analysis or a $20 U.S. Savings Bond?

Test, test, test.

Now, letís discuss the mailer copy itself. The copy is the third key factor in your mailerís effectiveness, along with the mailing list and the offer. There are five key stages to a successful mailer message. Each stage can be as long – or as short – as necessary for the intended audience.

Stage 1: Evoke the pain. If your product or service is worthwhile, it relieves some sort of pain issue. Identify the customerís pain points and call attention to them. Only after that pain point is brought to mind, should you offer a solution.

Most people put the solution too far forward in the mailer, mistakenly thinking that this is ďbenefit oriented.Ē The problem, is that the benefit isnít relevant yet. Itís a solution for a problem people arenít thinking about. Thatís not a recipe for sales success. Remember, too, that research proves that people are more averse to pain than attracted to reward.

Stage 2: Offer your solution. Make it clear, concise, and compelling. Mailers are usually not the place to go into deep detail about internal processes, because that discussion slows down moving on to the next stages. Mailers are very good at delivering powerful visual images that communicate important points. So use pictures and charts, and always put captions under them.

Stage 3: Establish your credibility. This is where customer or client testimonials are invaluable, as are relevant awards. Third-party validation is the most-believable thing you can put forward on your behalf.

If youíre a new business, though, you may not have testimonials or awards you can use to support your credibility. You may need to tout your professional qualifications, including credentials, educational achievements, and professional associations. Or, business affiliations with organizations such as the Better Business Bureau.

Stage 4: Make your offer. Note that your promotional offer comes toward the end, not the beginning. Thatís because, unless youíre very well-known by your mailerís recipient, your offer lacks value until youíve made a compelling case for your product or service.

That said, one good reason to move your offer up to the front, is when itís spectacular. For instance, not just free pizza toppings, but a whole free pizza. Obviously, this kind of promotion is not a sustainable business model. But, itís a way to ďbuy the loveĒ long enough to break through the clutter and deliver your advertising message. In this case, remember: your promotional offer is your bait, not your hook. Once you get someoneís attention, you must communicate a compelling reason to buy your product or service even without your offer. And, youíd better have some sort of customer conversion mechanism in place, like a customer loyalty program. Otherwise, youíll have invested in a costly offer for minimal returns.

Stage 5: Direct the readerís next step. Ask for the phone call, the order, the visit, the opportunity to bid. Can you get more business by adding the words ďCall me nowĒ? Yes, in my experience, you can.

Thereís a sixth, secret stage: repeat! No matter how well your mailer copy works, keep trying to beat it. Try new offers, test new appeals and approaches and markets. This constant refining of your advertising message not only sharpens it into a powerfully effective piece of marketing communication, but it also helps you catch trends early, keeping you one step ahead of your competition.

Direct mail can be costly or cost-effective, depending on the quality of your mailing list, the quality of your offer, and the quality of your mailer copy. Many of the lessons of direct mail transfer directly into other forms of direct response advertising, including email campaigns and promotional landing pages. So, give your advertising mailer – and your small business – the edge, with Tightwad Marketing!
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