Sunday, May 14, 2006

You’ve got Mail

The right message and design along wth the right database, can turn a direct mailer into a really lean, mean , marketing machine.

Back in 1886 a young railroad telegrapher in Minnesota acquired a shipment of unclaimed and thus undeliverable gold-filled pocket watches. They were exceptional in quality. He also happened to have a list of 20,000 names and addresses with him of railroad employees just like him. It struck him that they too would need an accurate timepiece. So he mailed each of them a letter which stated that he had just purchased an unclaimed freight of watches, whose quality he personally vouched for. He was selling them at a bargain price. Would they buy one from him?

If legend is to be believed, he sold all his watches in record time. Not just this, some of his new customers were soon ordering additional watches. So he mailed another letter to all his old customers, asking if they wanted more of those watches. Many said “Yes”.

If that was not enough some of his now regular customers, sent some of their watches for repair. So this time round he sent another letter to his customers, that he could also repair their disabled watches. He now expanded, by including repairing of watches as part of his business. Eleven years after his fortunate purchase of that unclaimed freight, his one page mailer had turned into a mail-order catalog of more than 750 pages with 6000 items. By 1902 the sales of his company had exceeded $50 million annually. The man was none other than Richard Sears, who founded the Sears, Roebuck & Company. Today the Sears Roebuck catalogue has become a household name. That’s Direct Marketing. If one has to go by definitions, then the best and the simplest was given by Drayton Bird. He said “any advertising activity which creates and exploits a direct relationship between you and your prospect or customer as an individual is Direct Marketing”.

Customers are getting more and more demanding. They expect greater variety of product and service to match their individual needs. They need to be targeted and marketed to directly, with tailor-made products. So direct marketing is growing in importance day-by-day. Today just about every company engages in direct marketing of one sort or another. In fact there are some businesses that are based on direct marketing – like Reader’s Digest or Time Life Books. Tools and techniques of direct marketing can be used effectively by any enterprise. Warner Brothers used it to promote their World War II movie “Memphis Belle”. They mailed 7,00,000 post cards offering a special $1 discount to each recipient and a guest for evening performances of the new movie. Interestingly these recipients were purchasers of the Time Life books or videos on subjects such as World War II, Nazi, Germany etc – all likely to be interested in the movie. Warner Brothers had formed a new organization Time Warner with the publisher Time Inc. They used this affiliation very intelligently to promote their movie. Direct Marketing did help in increasing ticket sales.

“If you sometimes unbutton your collar at the office we suggest you read on”. This was an advertisement for The Custom Shop Shirtmakers. It explained how only a custom made shirt could provide that extra quarter inch which was not possible in a readymade shirt. The ad. concluded by saying that “once we have your pattern you can reorder by mail or phone – very convenient” Come to think of it now you could actually order a shirt on the phone!

Back in 1952 Soichiro Honda and Mr. Fujisawa knew that one day they would have the best bikes in the world. Honda would make them and Fujisawa would market them. Honda soon made the Cub F-type. It was a small lightweight 50cc 2-stroke engine. It was smart and cute. This was also the time when often they would be asked by car dealers “What does this Honda Company do?” It was really difficult for them to get dealers and convince them to stock their product. That’s when Fujisawa thought of the numerous bicycle shops all over Japan. He decided to contact the country’s 50,000 bicycle shops by using a direct mail brochure. It was a masterpiece. It clearly showed how well he understood his customers. He wrote “After the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) your ancestors took the courageous decision to launch the imported bicycle in Japan and they are still the basis of your business today. But now customers want bicycles with engines. We at Honda have made such an engine. Please reply if you are interested”. Fifty – four years ago, there were no automated means of sending out 50,000 letters. Every single one had to be written by hand. The work was given to freelance clerks. However time was short so all the staff joined in to help. The response was incredible. They received 30,000 enthusiastic replies.

From movies to shirts to bikes – everyone has gone the direct way and it works. A good direct mailer is always a very useful marketing tool. A product is just a bundle of benefits; your direct mail copy lets the consumer “sample” the product’s benefits before he buys it. An intelligently written mailer can work wonders for the bottom line of your organization. Bi-Intelligent, Inc. a New York based software company was selling a product called “Easyfire” which could enhance the performance of several software applications. It was priced at $89.50. The company sent out mailers where the headline on the envelope read “For $89.50 you can make your IBM as easy to use as a Macintosh”. Surely a lot of people did open those envelopes.There are numerous factors to keep in mind while working on a direct mail campaign. Remember the simple 3C’s rule.

a. The Customer
The customer is the lifeblood of any organization. Every business is about creation and cultivation of customers. As Peter F. Drucker once observed “Companies are not in business to make things, but to make customers”. So you need to understand your target market well viz a viz – in terms of what are their need and desires, and what is it that will motivate them to buy. Not just this you also need to cultivate your customers. There is no tool stronger than direct marketing which helps in knowing and cultivating customers. Today with the help of technology, you can easily find out who are your repeat purchase customers, who are the one time buyers and who are the most loyal. Accordingly you can customize your mailers and achieve better results.

So, know your customers well, and establish a relationship with them. Sales are simply the results of such successful relationships.

b. The Contents Once you know your market well, you can design a content which appeals to it. Anyone can write a letter, but not everyone can write an effective letter. An effective letter is one which clearly indicates “What’s in it for you”. The reader should know instantly how he or she will benefit from the offering. The reader should feel that he is the special one. If you can give a personal tone to the letter chances of success are higher.

Enthusiasm is contagious. Show it in your letters. Write like a winner. Open your sales argument with your strongest sales points. The reader will definitely respond. Even though there are no rules yet some sentences always work. Like

  1. I have something you want….
  2. I want you to have this, but If I don’t hear from you I’ll have to offer it to somebody else.
  3. You can still get rich…

To these claims, if you can add something which makes those claims sound authentic, you have hit the nail on the head. To the above three claims you could add sentences like

  1. Here’s why or This is why I’ve chosen you for this offer.
  2. That’s because …
  3. This is what will happen…
There are some tricks which somehow always work.
  1. Open your letter with a question. It immediately and almost always involves the reader.
  2. Use exclamation marks… the reader will exclaim with you!
  3. Your contents should compel the reader to open the envelope. If you can do that, you have been successful. Consider this. You received a letter which says “Congratulations! You are our million dollar prize winner…”. Chances are you will open the envelope.
  4. Case studies have shown that a reader typically reads the first few lines of the letter and then his eyes go down the page to the P.S. So the postscript is your best buddy. Its always a good idea to incorporate the main points of the letter in the P.S. once again.
  5. Always call for action at the end. Either ask them to call a toll-free number, or create a deadline. A deadline usually increases the rate of response.
  6. “Brevity is the soul of wit” said William Shakespeare. He could not have been more correct. A short letter with short sentences and very simple eighth grade english always works.
  7. The Golden Rule is that there is no rule. Before you launch your direct marketing, blitz test, test and test. If it works it’s a rule! Follow these tips and you would be ready to make a rocking mailer.

b. The Contact The actual people who receive a mail from you are very critical. You must have the right mailing list. A good database is a very powerful tool and companies go to any extent to build it.

Gerber is a company known for baby food. The company entered into life insurance. While the baby food was sold off the shelf the company decided to sell its insurance policy by mail order. The insurance covered the child till he was 27 years old. The slogan they used to market to the parents was “Ask your baby about us.” Initially they had no database. However once the people applied, the company soon started targeting the children, once they became young adults. The mailer said “Your parents bought this life insurance for you when you were born and have been paying the premiums ever since. Isn’t it time you started buying your own life insurance?” The company had developed a relationship and was now leveraging that. Many of the children did stick to Gerber Life Insurance – just like their parents. If this was not enough, when the parents became grandparents, Gerber sent them a letter reminding them, how they had insured the lives of their children. Now wouldn’t they want to do the same for their grandchild? Not many refused!

A mailing list afterall is not just a collection of addresses. It is a list of people who actually need your product or service. Gerber for one sure has developed a very strong and relevant mailing list.

The falling birth rate in Britain was a cause for concern for C&J Clarks Ltd., Britain’s largest shoe manufacturer. The retailers started stocking less and less of baby shoes. Magazine advertising was not helping much either. So the company decided to go direct. They contacted 2,80,000 new mothers while they were still in the hospital and presented them with a “Bounty Box”. It contained a letter offering a poster which could be hung in the infant’s room and had a copy describing the various milestones the infant would pass through – like when would he start crawling then sitting then speaking then walking. When he would start walking he would need shoes. So the letter also described the benefits of buying the right “First Shoes” for the child. About 15% mothers wanted the poster. So Clarks soon had a database of 42,000 customers. When the children of these mothers were about to start walking, the mothers once again received a letter from Clarks with a leaflet describing how to choose the right shoes and the hazards of choosing ill-fitting shoes. Of course as the baby grew he would require another pair and there always was a letter from Clarks to remind the family where to go to. These letters always resulted in increase in sales because they were targeting the right customers.

The success of any direct mail programme depends of the Contact list. Make sure its relevant. Otherwise it doesn’t take long for “Bulk-mail” to become “Junk-mail”. That’s the razor’s edge you walk on. So you need to select your prospect with care.

Finally, remember studies have shown that it takes eight to ten contacts before people remember your message. No wonder you see the same ads being repeated again and again on T.V. So don’t stop mailing. Keep in touch with your customers constantly. Keep knocking on their mail boxes and keep reminding them about you and your product – they will take notice. If your mailer is well written and relevant they will respond. So go ahead reach out directly to them and say – you’ve got mail! It will work.

1 comment:

  1. Mam, This article is truly awesome..being direct and accurate!! thanks for the guidance!


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