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Direct-Mail-in-article.pngby Robert Lerose.


Though many entrepreneurs are now engaging in a mad dash to find and connect with customers through online marketing and social media, this rush to embrace all things digital may cause a small business owner to overlook a tried-and-still-true way to prospect for customers and convert sales: direct mail. “It’s guaranteed to get into a person’s mailbox. You have 100-percent deliverability, whereas with email you don’t,” notes Heather Snead, Mailing Solutions Specialist with the U.S. Postal Service.


Business owners report a distinct advantage in putting something real in customers’ hands, too. Add that to the variety of formats and emotional “in your face” visuals that direct mail provides and you get a marketing channel that offers enhanced creativity and hard revenue generation that e-based applications can’t often match.


Because the analytics for measuring the ROI of social media are still evolving, it’s hard to get an apples-to-apples comparison between direct mail and the new digital communication tools. So while some evidence seems to suggest that the ROI for email is higher, such analysis often fails to adequately address the paucity of reliable email lists and ongoing issues with spam. Nonetheless, one conclusion almost all the experts support is this: Companies that have an integrated direct mail/email strategy get better results than those using only one method.


Giving customers something tangible

Randy O’Neill, senior vice president of Lancer Insurance Company, uses direct mail to reinforce his company’s brand. “We’re the largest specialty insurer of passenger transportation companies in the country. The commercial transportation business is primarily a small business/family environment that we’re operating in. We like to have people actually see, feel, and touch our materials. We can do that much better through direct mail.”


To reach owners of small limousine services, O’Neill says his company launched a three-pronged campaign that included email and two types of mailers: a postcard and a more interactive piece with a tear-off. “They can return the piece in a fold-over secure envelope that we provide,” O’Neill says, explaining that some of the information his mailer asks for is somewhat sensitive.


In addition, O’Neill says his goal has been to simplify the look and size of the mailers, while offering the recipients multiple ways to connect. “We’re actually using the mailing pieces as both a billboard and an information vehicle. It provides the various response options we’re looking for, whether it’s [calling] a traditional 800 number, sending the piece back, or driving them to our website.”


Cut through the clutter with humor

“Direct mail provides you the opportunity to forge relationships with your target audience,” says Mike Palm, vice president of sales and marketing for CRP Industries, a family-managed company that sells industrial and automotive products to distributors. “Direct mail fuels and feeds the pipeline for us and helps us qualify leads.”


The tangibility of direct mail also allows for different formats and creative approaches. All it takes is a little imagination, as Palm discovered with a recent campaign to sell a high-pressure thermoplastic hose that his company had been marketing for over 25 years. Most of their sales volume for this specialty item came from the airless paint spray industry, but despite a concerted effort to sell to other markets, the company couldn’t break through. “A lot of these people are owner/operators of their businesses. We wanted to communicate our [unique selling proposition], the attributes that CRP delivers, that we ship in 24 hours—but we couldn’t cut through the clutter.”


CRP’s advertising agency recommended sending dimensional mailers that used humor to 250 distributors of specific industrial products, a new segment for customer development that CRP had been trying to crack. 


“We did three mailings of these boxes. In the first mailing, we sent an empty box with just a product catalog inside. The outside of the box said: ‘If you’d ordered a hose from us yesterday, it would have been inside this box today.’”


Mobile_Barcode_Promotion.pngTwo different boxes with humorous contents and a postcard campaign followed. “We saw a

31-percent increase in sales,” Palm says. “We dramatically shortened our typical sales cycle and closed on three new customers in less than three months. And we had over 50-percent aided recall of this campaign. It was a huge success.”


Whereas the average customer in CRP’s traditional market segment will spend $2,000 per year, the customers in this new market will spend more than $6,000 per year; in many cases, as much as $10,000 to $20,000 per year.


Not only did CRP generate hundreds of thousands of dollars of sales from this new market, but their ROI was also at least 3 times greater than what they had achieved with their traditional airless paint spray market segment.


Lead generation with postcards that pop

Measurable Solutions, a consulting and training company that also delivers seminars to business owners, put together a postcard campaign to generate interest in a marketing course for health professionals. “We put a success story on the postcard from a physician who had done the course as well as his upswing in patient visits,” says Jeff Lee, CEO and co-founder of Measurable Solutions. “Prospects listen more closely when someone else says it. We had approximately 75 calls in one week from a 5,000-piece mailing,” for a 1.5-percent response rate. (A response rate between one and three percent is considered an acceptable return in direct mail.) 


Lee says that weekly postcards combined with a monthly newsletter were the right marketing mix in his case. Before his company mounts a campaign, it does live surveys with the target market to come up with gripping sales pieces. “You need a message that grabs them by the eyeballs, and you’ve got to tell them to call you or they won’t do it.”


In one campaign, Lee found that health professionals wanted new patients. The postcard headline read “Get New Patients Out The Wazoo!” accompanied by a success story/testimonial by a client. Another headline that worked:  “Is your business controlling you or are you in control of your business?” A commanding but simple “Call Now!” or “Schedule Now!” was a sufficient call to action.


The bottom line

Besides offering the potential of forging a genuine emotional connection through the use of creative formatting and attention-getting messages, direct mail also gives business owners something that no other marketing channel does: a real item that prospects can touch and see. “[Direct mail] gives you the opportunity to have a relationship with a very targeted audience,” CRP’s Palm says. As a result, it allows an entrepreneur to take more creative and conceptual risks, which, in turn, can reap higher rewards.

Whether you’re a restaurant seeking to attract customers on a rainy Thursday night, a nail salon offering manicure/pedicure combinations between 10 a.m. and noon, or a bowling alley spreading the word about “twofer” Tuesdays, small businesses are feeling the impact of mobile marketing on their bottom lines.   According to the Mobile Marketing Association, companies that employ a mobile marketing strategy can “communicate and engage with their audience in an interactive and relevant manner through any mobile device or network.”


mobile marketing.pngMobile marketing is proving to be more effective and affordable in comparison to traditional or online marketing.  Although there is still a tremendous amount of value in email marketing and online advertising, the response rate for mobile promotions is seven times higher than email, and mobile ads perform five times better than Internet ads.  Similar to their responses to personal text messages, customers are compelled to react in the moment to marketing messages received on their mobile devices, reading them instantly.  In fact, many consumers welcome the opportunity to receive coupons that match their purchasing preferences and are willing to trade some privacy for targeted offers:  25 percent of mobile phone owners are already enrolled in at least one subscriber-based SMS program.


Businesses large and small are getting on board and making mobile marketing a major part of their sales and marketing plan.  Three billion coupons are expected to be sent to mobile phones during the next two years, according to Juniper Research.   And, dollars spent on mobile marketing campaigns are projected to grow to $3-5 billion from a couple of hundred million in revenues just three years ago.


The shift in attitude is being driven by larger societal trends.  There are more than 234 million mobile subscribers in the United States, and 45.5 million of them have smart phones, according to a 2010 study by ComScore.  The fact that more than half of all Internet usage is accessed via a mobile device, signals the growing comfort consumers have with making purchasing decisions on the go.  Furthermore, we have become a texting nation – Americans now generate and receive twice as many texts as phone calls.


So what do you need to keep in mind when it comes to mobile marketing?


  • There are many marketing techniques: Promotions may be the most obvious manifestation of mobile marketing, but there are many other tactics small businesses can use to reach customers, including:  offering user reviews and ratings; allowing pre-ordering; offering the opportunity to create a “wish list” or registry of items a customer would like to receive as gifts; disseminating mobile coupons with barcodes that can be scanned on a mobile phone and creating customized mobile marketing stat.png


  • The costs are lower than you think.  At less than $50 a month for a basic package from select companies, there are reasonably priced texting and mobile marketing providers that small businesses can afford.  And, if you want to build a mobile website yourself, there are free and inexpensive do-it-yourself tools.  Creating a customer list is no different than it is with traditional marketing. Just be sure to collect cell phone numbers.  Designing a mobile ad only requires 160 characters of text and simple graphics, if any are used. 


  • Be strategic, not tactical.  Jumping on the mobile marketing bandwagon simply to appear current or technologically savvy ultimately won’t help expand your customer base.  You need to understand how customers are using your content (i.e. are buying decisions made at point of sale, or do you require a longer sales process?).  You should evaluate how your products and services will appear on a mobile device.  Mobile sites should have fewer layers and quick tabs for accessing information; graphics and photos should download quickly and text should be short. Finally, it’s important to ensure that your company’s branding and customer experience on mobile reflect the assets for which your company is known in the real world. 


Mobile is here. Customers are receptive to it and the younger market demands it.   There are a wide variety of technology options to build, manage and track the efficacy of texting campaigns and mobile websites. And, as the statistics indicate, small businesses are well suited to lead the way into a mobile future. You should consider getting started using this type of marketing.

LinkedIn_WebLogo.jpgOwning a small business today is quite a bit different than even a generation ago. Whereas business owners used to be able to be just that, business people, these days it seems that they are expected to be two parts business person, one part techno-geek, and maybe one part social media maven.


While the good news is that all of that technology has enabled us to do more with less, the bad news is that the time demands put upon today’s business person is more burdensome than ever, begging the question:


Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss.


Is it really that important to use social media in order to run a business today?

Many small business owners don’t want to be bothered with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. While understandable, that conclusion would be a partial mistake. Of all of the social media outlets out there, you might want to double-check LinkedIn. It just may be the single site that can do the most for most small businesses.


Here are 5 ways:


    1. Tap into the power of groups: True story – Not long ago a woman was starting a new business. Never having been an entrepreneur before, she decided to join some LinkedIn business groups. But unlike most people, she did more than sign up and receive an occasional group update in her inbox. No, she jumped in with both feet – posting, sharing, networking and helping.


      A few months later, she decided that what she really needed was an advisory group, so she put out the word to her groups. Imagine her surprise (and delight) when she was inundated with offers from more than 50 highly qualified people who were willing to sit on her board, and help her, for free.

    2. Connect: Whereas the purpose of Twitter eludes many entrepreneurs, LinkedIn makes eminent sense; after all, networking is in our bones. That said, too few small business people really understand how powerful LinkedIn can be to find and be found by the right people.


      Sure, you can use the search feature on LinkedIn to find a specific person, but that’s sort of like using only 10% of your brain; LinkedIn advanced search can do so much more than that. With advanced search, you can powerfully expand your network by searching key words and phrases, professions and titles, industries and companies, experience, schools, zip codes and more. Even better: You can save the search results for later use. To the far right of your search result is a link that says “save this search.”


      By the same token, if you play your cards right, you can ensure that when people do their own advanced search, their search result will include your name and profile. Here’s how: Your LinkedIn profile is similar to your website and, like your website, it needs to be chock full of SEO-friendly (Search Engine Optimization) key terms and key phrases. When someone searches for people with your specialty, the more keywords you have that fit their criteria, the higher the likelihood that they will find you.


      Let’s say for instance that you are a PR person who used to work for a computer company. You might simply list “PR” “marketing” and “computers” in your Profile and under your Specialties, but you would be better served using more words, and more specific terms such as media, media relations specialist, publicist, IT marketing, IT branding, computer marketing and advertising. As with a website, the more you sprinkle specific SEO phrases around, the higher the likelihood that you will end up in an appropriate search result. If you are unsure what key words to use, there is no need to guess. Check out Wordtracker, a great tool that takes the guesswork out of key words.

    3. Get free market research: LinkedIn has a very active questions and answers area. By posting pertinent questions –questions relevant to your business – you can quickly and inexpensively garner some very valuable feedback.


      Added bonus: If you answer a question, you can build buzz by clicking the “share this” button.

    4. Monitor buzz: What are people saying about your business and that of your competitors? LinkedIn has a cool tool that enables you to monitor buzz, called Company Buzz.


          5. Discover important events: LinkedIn also has a function that allows you to easily discover important industry events.


So no, Twitter is, fortunately, far from the only social media game in town.




About Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.
You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.


LinkedIn: Steve Strauss

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