When Direct Mail Can Still be More Effective than Email

January 22, 2010

The WSJ made an excellent point in a piece posted last week about the continued importance of direct mail in the marketing mix of the average small business owner. The article goes on to cite examples of real small businesses who after briefly succumbing to the lure of saving money by cutting their partnership with the USPS, quickly re-instated their previously successful direct mail campaign.

Email sounds great on paper but for most small business, email lists are still an obstacle. They don’t have them and can’t afford to rent them or they can’t find one that matches their target demographics. But they’ve bought into the idea that dmail and postage is too expensive when email is cheap (or free) and so they reign in their dmail budget and do little or nothing in the email space.

Direct mail still deserves a place in your marketing plan though perhaps with a smaller part of your budget.

Gone are the days when dropping generic letters or cards to thousands of rented names each month makes sense. In their place small biz marketers are finding that customized communications to a smaller and more targeted list are not only more effective but can help them stand out. Don’t get discouraged because you don’t read “junk mail.” You are not your client and if your communication looks like junk, then you’re doing it wrong.

A personalized package with customized info sent priority mail to your target will stand out. A hand written note on company notecards will get their attention. A humorous postcard with an exaggerated graphic may be just the reminder they need to keep your name and your business top of mind. Complement the sales calls, emails and other tools in your marketing mix with a good dmail piece and reap the rewards ignored by your thrifty competitors.


When Great Subject Lines Fail to Deliver

January 21, 2010

Today I received an email with the subject, “I would like to take you to lunch.” Quick and to the point, it got my attention and made me open it. The problem was once I got inside there was a form letter from a man I do not know trying to sell me something that I could not immediately identify. So I deleted it.

Writing great subject lines, like headlines, is a skill. Remember, these are the attention getters that make people want to read more. Like book jackets and magazine covers, these are the advertisements for what is inside. They shouldn’t be an after thought but instead a strategic part of your marketing effort.

If you’re going to compose a great headline, make sure you can deliver on the inside else it is just more spam. Connect your subject, either directly or with a little humor, to the message inside so the conversation continues. Then be direct and get to the point quickly so you can connect with the recipient and deliver on your offer.

On closer inspection, I believe the sender of my message was marketing something to do with events. A face to face made sense for him to market his services but without a clearer articulation of those in the lead paragraph, with a graphic or in a bulleted list or table, he lost me. Think about that next time you’re trying to differentiate your email from spam.

Respecting the Opt Out List

August 31, 2009

In honor of the death of John Jay Daly, former president of the Direct Marketing Association and  founder of the program that allows consumers to opt out of direct mail marketing campaigns, I thought it be valuable to revisit the topic of email and direct mail marketing preferences.

The most prevalent misinformation about e-mailing lists is that they are readily available and cheap. When businesses started abandoning dmail in favor of email, most of them argued that it would be much cheaper and wondered why anyone would still rely on the USPS. Aside from an entire sideline conversation about the way consumers like to receive their communications, the important point to make here was that because of list compilation guidelines and user preference obligations established by the US CAN SPAM legislation, email lists are not easily available and certainly aren’t cheap.

The direct marketing industry learned long ago that it had to respect the rights of recipients and that is when the opt-out programs began. You may not notice but at the bottom or on the back of nearly every direct mail solicitation you receive from a major firm is an option to Opt-Out of future mailings. You can do this by mailing a request to the address provided. You can thank John Jay Daly for this.

Fast forward 35 years and you find the DMA wrestling with the same privacy issues and email. With that discussion along came CAN SPAM legislation. But the Email rules are much tougher, requiring that recipients OPT IN the first time and that mailers provide an Opt Out method every time. It is precisely these rules that make high quality, reliable email marketing lists tough to come by and expensive to mail. This isn’t to say that they aren’t available. You can rent them but you can’t bank the records. And it doesn’t work like direct mail programs where you license the list and it is delivered to your bonded mail house. With rental email lists, the list stays with the list owner and you pay not only for the use of the list but to have them deliver your communications to the list they own.

Suddenly, email marketing isn’t necessarily cheaper than direct mail marketing.

As frustrating as this may be to marketers, it isn’t entirely a bad thing. Think of it like the no soliciting sign in businesses or perhaps in your neighborhood. By giving notice to vendors that you aren’t interested in their solicitations should save them $$ (assuming they read).

As professional marketers we see this as a way to deliver much more targeted messages only to those people who are truly interested, thereby increasing the deliverability of our marketing programs and ultimately the ROI (fewer mailed pieces, even at a higher per piece cost, are much more valuable if we reach more prospects and have less waste).

Increase in Advertising Spending = Recovering Economy or Desperation?

August 11, 2009

About six months ago I started encouraging clients to take advantage of the pull back in advertising spend to make their dollar go further by taking advantage of greatly reduced rates. My clients don’t do a lot of display but the same mantra held true for most of the available media at the time.

Over the summer I noticed an uptick in marketing spend in my business serving the SMB space and subsequently confirmed the same was true with my counterparts serving the medium enterprise and global corporation space. Conjecture might say this signals a turn in the economy, but is that true?

The WSJ reported this morning that the dental market is seeing a 10% drop on average in patient billings largely due to unemployment rate. People without dental insurance stop going and those high brow vanity treatments don’t seem as important when we’re counting our pennies. The article goes on to describe how dentists are having to get creative with their marketing efforts and spend less time seeing patience and more time recruiting them. The old reminder postcards aren’t bringing patients in as fast and thus dentists are trying the same tricks as everyone else: email campaigns and twitter.

So perhaps the increase in marketing spend is just a sign that business are finally having to do what we marketing folks have told them all along: focus on your best prospects, show love to your best clients, identify to your competitive advantage and then promote it in more ways than buying one ValPak envelope a year and putting your initials on the door?

I think what in fact what is happening is that certain businesses are preparing to thrive. They’re establishing a robust infrastructure, staking their claim on their space and working harder to protect their brand. It’s not just a marketing investment that will help them succeed. It’s their overall investment in their business from people to technology that is helping them ramp up and prepare to take market share from the competition who instead of investing has squeezed every available dime out of their business and hidden it under the mattress.

Jenkins’ The Truth About Email Marketing Worth Reading if You’re Mailing

June 20, 2009

Although I started it over a month ago, I finally got around to finishing Simms Jenkins’ The Truth About Email Marketing earlier this afternoon. As far as nitty-gritty topics go, this is about a nichey as you can get but Jenkins kindly divided his thoughts into 49 different points (I think there are actually only about 40 here if you consider some of the overlap but I wasn’t hired as the editor of this text) to make it easy to pick up and return to as time allows. If you can get past the first few points which really seem to be selling his services (or that of any email agency), I found some great content inside.

Jenkins spends a great deal of time on U.S. CAN-SPAM legislation, noting that at the time he published the book some 81% of marketers were unaware of the guidelines (did you know you can be charged $250 per email spam?), and repeatedly reminds readers to visit (and also direct their subscribers) to review the latest details on the FTC site. Since publication, the FTC has also launched this consumer facing site filled with good tips for senders and receivers.

He provides a “Best Practices for B2B email marketing” List in point #46 that starts with some obvious ones like know your audience but moves on to how to prepare for Mobile readers. If you can’t find time to read the whole book, just read this point while you’re standing in Barnes & Noble.

In closing he takes the time to put things into perspective citing the results of 2008 E-Consultancy and Adestra Report showing that businesses were using email 52% of the time for retention and just 26% of the time for acquisition, an important point to note when planning your media mix.

Email List Maintenance 101: Don’t Offend Your Subscribers

June 19, 2009

You work hard to build a list of qualified subscribers to your email marketing list. You need to work equally hard to keep them. List hygiene is just as important as dental hygiene: if you don’t do it, your list will fail you.

After each campaign we carefully review not only the results of the campaign (clicks throughs, opens and conversions) but we need to take time to look at the opt outs and undeliverables. This week eMarketer.com shared the results of another great study citing the reasons that most people opt out of a permission-based list:

Emarketer Reasons Internet Users Unsubscribe

It shouldn’t surprise you to find that irrelevant content and frequency were the top responses. If you send off-topic messages, you’re confusing your audinece. They subscribed or granted permission because they wanted to hear about whatever your primary area of expertise may be. If you get off topic you confuse and offend them. Sounds simple enough but you’d be surprised.

Frequency is the baseball bat that I’m constantly waiving over client’s heads. We need to respect the permission granted and deliver timely, relevant content as often as the recipient needs to hear from us. How often us that? Depends on what you are selling. Starbucks & McDonald’s could deliver several times a week but I don’t want to hear from my Realtor nearly that often. Think carefully about the frequency with which you deliver and make sure you’re not just shoveling !#$%  to keep your name in front of them else they put you out with the trash.

Email that talks: Would you like that in your in-box?

February 11, 2009

Last monthI had the pleasure of lunching with Lisa Jones, the founder of http://www.eyemailinc.com. Eyemail is a different kind of email marketing company not just because of Lisa but because of the way the application works. As Lisa advertises, “ours can be the only message in your in box that actually talks to you.” OK now she had my attention.

I’d seen Hello World before and was familiar with the idea of sending email messages with embedded videos as a way to stand out and personalize your greetings. So with this as my baseline, I invited her to explain the difference. For those of you who are not technologically savvy there are some details that will bore you but the big difference is that with eyemail the user doesn’t have to do anything — not even click a link — to hear the message.

What this means is that the second your message hits the recipient’s box, it begins playing, assuming they are at their desk. If you sent the message after hours (something I wouldn’t recommend) the talking greeting would welcome them along with their coffee when they logged in the next morning.

Unlike Hello World, the videos are professionally produced and framed like PowerPoint on steroids. The pure quality of the production is what has attracted some Fortune 100 clients already who are using it for internal as well as external communications. So if you haven’t already seen an eyemail message, there may soon be on in your future.

While the applications of the product are interesting and I’m certain they have a place, I’m just not sure that I would respond warmly to an audio greeting in my in-box along with the other 100+ messages I receive each day. As Lisa explains it, the message will keep talking until the user actually does something, which is certain to increase open rates and click-throughs but might infuriate some. I think we’ll have to wait and call this one after we receive our first eyemail message. If you’ve received one already, please let me know what you think.