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It's no accident that Web-based companies rely heavily on direct mail to reach prospects. The largest credit card marketers like MBNA, Citicorp, and Chase all depend on direct mail to connect with precisely the right kind of prospects.
Even so, it may come as something of a surprise that 56 percent of the marketers participating in a recent survey planned to increase their spending on direct mail in 2005. The same direct marketing trend survey by Kern Direct points out that direct mail beat out search engine marketing, print advertising, e-mail, and e-newsletters.
GIVING UP ON DIRECT MAIL?If direct mail is growing, then why did so many marketers seem to abandon it almost overnight in favor of e-mail, Web advertising and Websites? There were two reasons. First, there was a massive migration to "the latest technology." Like so many other new tactics, electronic marketing tactics were adopted without proof of effectiveness. The lemming-effect set in almost immediately. Everyone was doing it and no self-respecting marketer wanted to be out of step, thought of as a latter-day Luddite, or worse yet, left behind. That wouldn't look good on their resumes. Direct mail was dropped like the proverbial hot potato.
The second reason was cost. As soon as banner advertising and "e-mail blasting" became available, the promoters of electronic marketing emerged from the woodwork with their promises of reaching tens of thousands of buyers at a fraction of the cost of direct mail. If that wasn't enough, it was all quick and easy to implement. Agree today and hit the button tomorrow. It was nothing less than a feeding frenzy, as we all know. Yet, it was little different from the telemarketers who first promised qualified leads and then the "ready-to-buy" appointments - or any of the other get-it-quick marketing schemes that hold out the lure of easy sales.
Now, the migration is back to direct mail and the reason for the move is simple: The other communication tactics failed to deliver the promised results, while opt-in requirements put the brakes on e-mail blasting, just as it did on consumer telemarketing. Even more to the point, the constant bombardment was too much for customers to bear and they increasingly rejected what they viewed as intrusive techniques.
THE QUESTION AGAINSo, again, "Why direct mail?" Whether it's car manufacturers, cell phone companies, credit card distributors, magazines, computers, or just about any other product or service, direct mail has regained its former popularity. Here are reasons for its resurgence:
The case for direct mail is compelling. Yet, its effectiveness is controlled by a number of critical factors:
Is the focus on what the customer can do for you or what you can do for the customer?
Bank of America's CEO described MBNA, the highly successful credit card company that his bank was acquiring, this way: "I see them as a sales machine."
He's wrong, dead wrong. MBNA is a creative, unrelenting, colossal marketing machine, not a sales machine. The difference is anything but subtle because it's so fundamental to MBNA's success. MBNA's entire focus is on understanding exactly what customers want and then giving it to them. It's the marketing that produces sales.
Why should we allow ourselves to think that recipients should be interested in what we drop in their mailboxes at a particular moment? The task of attracting a group of prospects and turning them into customers results from creating a plan for a direct mail campaign that rolls out over a period of time and unfolds the total message through a series of meaningful contacts.
While that's essential, there's another dimension that deserves attention. Direct mail should give customers options that fit their needs, wants, and expectations. They should be able to ask questions, obtain information, tell you how and when to contact them and, of course, express interest in making a purchase. The task is one of giving them room or freedom so they feel comfortable.
As an indication of the value direct mail can deliver, a survey by Peppers and Rogers Group, a management consulting firm specializing in customer-focused business solutions, reveals that direct mail contributes more to establishing a relationship between a business and its customers than print ads, TV, radio, e-mail, Internet, or telemarketing. The finding is expressed this way by Peppers and Rogers: "Now more than ever, consumers value organizations that make an effort to communicate and build a relationship through the mail."
And like any type of relationship, it doesn't happen overnight and depends on being totally genuine and maintaining an appreciation for what's important to the customer.
Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm. He can be contacted at 617-328-0069 or at www.grahamcomm.com.
Sidebar: Opening The MailIn direct mail, you have a formidable enemy - the wastepaper basket. Your prospects take one look at your mailing envelope and decide if they will open it or fling it into the trashcan. One way to persuade them to open your envelope is to make it look irresistible. Here are a few ideas:
Alan Sharpe is a business-to-business sales letter writer and lead generation specialist who helps businesses use direct mail marketing and e-mail marketing to generate leads, close sales, and retain customers. Contact Sharpe at www.sharpecopy.com.
Publication date: 01/23/2006