Response: The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing

Response: The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing

by Lois K. Geller, Lawrence G. Chait

View All Available Formats & Editions

Geller is president of a New York City-based direct marketing firm, Mason and Geller Direct. The new edition of her guide provides entrepreneurs, small companies, and large corporations with updated tips and techniques in direct marketing that have developed since publication of the first edition in 1996. Annotation (c)2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR


Geller is president of a New York City-based direct marketing firm, Mason and Geller Direct. The new edition of her guide provides entrepreneurs, small companies, and large corporations with updated tips and techniques in direct marketing that have developed since publication of the first edition in 1996. Annotation (c)2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Editorial Reviews

Soundview Executive Book Summaries
A Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing
Direct marketing has worked for Sears Roebuck, Sharper Image and Banana Republic, among others, and it could work for you. Lois Geller, the president of Mason & Geller Direct, explains that it can be the key to expanding your company's customer base and increasing its profitability. She and other direct marketing experts believe it is the single most effective way to sell, and Response explains how direct marketing can be tested, tracked and used to make a profit. Direct marketing campaigns sell billions of dollars worth of goods and services to consumers and businesses worldwide, and Geller lets her readers in on the secrets of its success.

Geller writes that anyone can use direct marketing tactics to create or improve business, and she offers step-by-step, scientifically planned, tested and proven direct marketing tools and techniques that can work for any type of business. By providing her readers with multitudes of examples of direct mail letters, reply envelopes, flyers, coupons, ads and television and radio campaigns, she demonstrates how these tools can be used successfully on both large and small scales. To back up her beliefs in these techniques and prove their effectiveness, Response also contains numerous interviews with the people who have successfully started and grown their own direct marketing enterprises.

Small Businesses Can Test, Too
Geller also explains the ins and outs of testing. Although big businesses have been very successful at performing this type of scientific experimentation, Geller offers tips to help small businesses get into the game. Instead of giving up after a single direct mail letter gets disappointing results, she writes, a small business can learn much from sending out the same letter with a small copy change. For example, she explains, a restaurant owner can send out one mailing that offers a free glass of wine with dinner, and in another mailing, the offer could be a 10 percent discount on weeknight dinners. The offer that gets the best response could be continued while the other one is dropped.

She writes that the most effective method of getting direct marketing to work for you is to "create small tests of several versions, calculate which produces the best return, and then do a larger mailing using those results." Because low-volume tests can be so useful, she writes that businesses of any size can benefit from this simple tool.

Since it is more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an old one, Geller also explains the importance of creating long-term relationships. She professes her faith in direct marketing as the perfect way to establish and maintain long-term customer relationships, as well as keep avenues open for referrals and new customers. She writes that any small business can benefit from sending out a flier or a postcard every few months to announce a sale, describe a new product or introduce a new staff member.

'What's in It for Me?'
Without an offer, Geller explains, direct marketing is merely retail selling by mail. To help companies answer the customer question, "What's in it for me?" she describes the elements of an effective offer that closes the sale. She writes that the three characteristics of an offer that works are:

  1. Believability: No one will believe they are going to get something very expensive for free. An offer must make sense to the customer.
  2. Involvement: Give the customer a special reason to buy. Get customers to visualize themselves already using a product or service. "Buy one and get one at half price," is a good way to help customers calculate how much they can save.
  3. Creativity: Be just a little different. An offer that is specific to a product or service being offered will get the highest response. Exclusive offers are also appealing.

The rest of Response delves into the fine points of identifying customers through compiled lists and list planning; creative techniques for successful direct mail packages, which include strategies for winning envelopes, letters, copy, design and order forms; direct response advertising; creating and mailing creative catalogs; fulfillment; determining costs and break-even points; and planning an effective direct mail campaign. She also helps big and small companies build relationships using modern technology, and sell internationally.

Why Soundview Likes This Book
Response covers the tactics and strategies of direct marketing from concept to long-term relationship by offering numerous examples and ideas that create customer interest. Geller knows her stuff, and in this updated and revised edition of her classic bestseller, she demonstrates the approach she has taken on her path to success as a direct marketing guru who has the tips and techniques that work in traditional formats as well as via the Internet and other electronic methods. Copyright (c) 2003 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

From the Publisher
"Response is a great practical guide for marketers and it's a key tool for us. I consider it to be the cornerstone of the group's Direct Marketing training." —Liz Bieler, Director Insurance Services American Express Company

"Lois Geller's direct marketing genius has been winning customers (and awards) for me for years Now she has a true winner for herself. Lois' book is destined to be on the bestseller list for a long time."—Anne McCall Simms, General Manager Fairmont Spas Inc.

"Response is a terrific resource to have in one's personal or professional library. It is filled with practical examples, valuable tools and insightful tips. It serves as a step-by-step guide to delivering successful direct marketing programs time after time after time. Whether it is used for professional enrichment or educational enlightenment, the reader will not be disappointed. It is an excellent book and I would recommend it for anyone doing a direct marketing program!" —Renée L. Harris, Director, New York University Marketing and Management Institute Center for Direct and Interactive Marketing

"The practical approach and real-life examples in Response provide an invaluable foundation in direct marketing. Lois is a master teacher whose enthusiasm shines through on every page. I continue to reach for Response both for inspiration, and to ensure my own work is on target." —Daniel Coyne, Marketing Manager, Special Projects, Direct Marketing Association, Inc.

"What's so unique about Response is that it brings direct marketing to life—it offers insider information and only could have been written by someone who has tremendous knowledge and depth of experience. Lois has done a superb job!" —Murray Miller, Senior Advisor to the President and COO, American Express Company

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
0.85(w) x 6.00(h) x 9.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


Why Go Direct?

Every semester for the past five years, students have been crowding into a small, overheated classroom at New York University. These are not your ordinary degree-seeking students — these are innovators, inventors, importers, advertising account managers, catalog publishers, entrepreneurs, and small-business owners. They've all come to my class on Direct Marketing to learn what this industry's insiders already know: that Direct Marketing is the fastest growing, most cost-effective method of selling products and services in our country today.

Direct Marketing — a measurable, tested marketing method whereby products or services are offered to a targeted audience and a direct response is solicited — is a $95 billion business. Every time you receive a subscription letter, fund-raising solicitation, or catalog in the mail, or reply to an advertisement in print, on radio, or on television, you are a participant in a Direct Marketing campaign.

The people who come to class at NYU (like the woman who makes children's toys and clothes at home and wants to start a mail order business, and the building contractor whose only previous advertising success has been his ad in the Yellow Pages) don't have billions of dollars to spend. On the other hand, we also have students who are high-level executives at IBM, AT&T, and other large corporations who want to build loyalty among their customers, who want to build name recognition, and who want to venture into new areas of marketing.

This book is addressed to all those students, to small-business owners and entrepreneurs, and to marketers at larger companies who want to branch out using Direct Marketing methods — to anyone who would like to get in on the successful strategies and concepts of the Fortune 500. What this book will tell you is how you can use the same Direct Marketing tactics the experts are using — within your own budget.

This book will:

* Provide you with step-by-step, scientifically planned, tested, and proven Direct Marketing tools and techniques that can be used in any type of business;

* Include case studies and illustrations that demonstrate how these tools and techniques have been used successfully by businesses (including examples of direct mail letters, reply envelopes, flyers, coupons, ads, and television and radio campaigns);

* Describe how these same tactics can be scaled down to fit smaller budgets without losing their impact and effectiveness;

* Feature interviews with industry professionals in all areas of Direct Marketing, including creative directors, computer specialists, copywriters, fulfillment experts, printers, and, most importantly, entrepreneurs, business owners, and marketers who have successfully started and grown their own Direct Marketing enterprises. These stories from experienced professionals will prove the effectiveness of the tips and techniques offered in this book, and will help you understand how to implement these ideas in your own situation.

The Advantages of Direct Marketing

Although it seems as if Direct Marketing is a recent phenomenon, it's been around since the '90s — the 1490s! According to Nat Ross's A History of Direct Marketing (published by the Direct Marketing Association), catalogs have been traced back to the Middle Ages, soon after Gutenberg's invention of movable type. The oldest catalog on record was dated 1498, when Aldus Manutius of Venice offered fifteen books he had published by Greek and Latin authors.

The first form of a "customer satisfaction guarantee," a staple of Direct Marketing today, came from none other than Benjamin Franklin, who printed a catalog (featuring more than 600 books) with the following statement: "Those persons who live remote, by sending their orders and money to said B. Franklin, may depend on the same justice as if present."

It was in 1872 that Aaron Montgomery Ward produced his first catalog, and the era of mail order as we know it was born. It was his idea to purchase large quantities of merchandise at a discount from manufacturers and sell this merchandise to farmers through the mail. By 1904, however, Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck had taken over as mail order leaders, when their catalog circulation reached over one million. Pioneers in the Old West relied on the Sears & Roebuck catalog for all their needs: clothes, farm equipment, household appliances, toys, dishes, pots and pans. Everything you could think of was available from that one source. Over the years, Direct Marketing expanded from catalogs to include direct mail campaigns, direct response print advertising, TV, radio, and interactive computer programs.

Today, you may have to go to a variety of sources, but you can still buy almost anything through catalogs, personalized mailings, and direct response advertising. Here are just a few of the usual — and unusual — items you can now get through Direct Marketing, right from your home (not to mention your home itself, which you can get direct from the real estate cable channel). Some of these items are marketed by huge corporations. Many are from tiny companies that specialize in one type of product or even one single product:

Computers, software, vinyl siding, spices, insurance, septic tank cleaner, CD-ROMs, checks, furniture, food, jewelry, Fruit of the Month, Beer of the Month, Coffee of the Month, Potato of the Month, Vidalia onions, telephone services, credit cards, magazines, Urology and You Newsletter, mutual funds, time shares, insurance, books, vacations, music, tea, discontinued silver patterns, hazelnuts, apricots, mattresses, dinosaur bones, exercise equipment, steak, pet products, art, carbide cannons (ammunition extra), teddy bears, furniture, gargoyles.

What's obvious from this list is that almost any product can be sold using Direct Marketing techniques. It is the most effective method of making a product or service visible and available to those people who are most likely to buy. Some of the reasons for its effectiveness are:

* Measurability. Carole Ziter, founder and president of Sweet Energy, a Vermont-based company that specializes in selling apricots, dried fruits, nuts, and chocolates through the mail, started her company out of her home with a $200 expenditure. Now that it's a $2 million business, Ziter says, "I love Direct Marketing because it's such a controllable situation. I wouldn't want to go retail. With Direct Marketing, I know if I put something in the mail, I get a response. If I don't put something in the mail, I don't get a response. I can control my business. Not only that, I can track everything so I know exactly how I'm spending my money."

Direct Marketing is the only form of advertising that is measurable. You know exactly how many responses you get, and where those responses are coming from. That information can be used to make decisions about continuing, expanding, or reworking your marketing plans.

* Testing. The reason that big businesses are so successful with their Direct Marketing is that, as in scientific experimentation, each step is carefully tested, and its results analyzed, before another major step is taken. Large companies like L.L. Bean, Lands' End, and Victoria's Secret test different offer structures (an offer represents the terms under which a specific product or service is promoted, such as a particular price point, a discount, a premium incentive, or sale price). A Lands' End catalog on the East Coast, for instance, might contain one type of offer, and the same catalog on the West Coast have a different offer.

A small business can do tests as well. Many small-business owners and entrepreneurs will send out one letter or place one ad, get a disappointing result and give up. Perhaps if they sent out that same letter with a small change in the copy, they might have gotten great results. If you owned a restaurant, you could send one mailing in which you offered a free glass of wine with dinner. In another mailing, you could give a 10 percent discount on weeknight dinners. Then you would continue using whichever offer drew the best response. The most effective method of getting Direct Marketing to work for you is to create small tests of several versions, calculate which produces the best return, and then do a larger mailing using those results. Using the right tools, it is possible for a business of any size to do low-volume tests that will let them know which tactics have the best potential for success.

* Expanding customer base. Lillian Vernon started out selling a few products from her garage. Banana Republic started out with a few Army & Navy surplus items. Sears Roebuck, Sharper Image, Domestications — there are literally thousands of examples of companies, both retail and mail order, that started out small and grew to amazing proportions through Direct Marketing. You might not expect or experience that kind of growth, but Direct Marketing can be the key to expanding your customer base and increasing your profitability.

* Long-term relationships. As every sales and marketing book will tell you, it's much more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an old one. Once you lose communication with a customer, it's very hard to rekindle it. Direct Marketing is the perfect way to establish and maintain long-term customer relationships. I'm much more aware of this phenomenon since I opened my own business. We send out personalized cards to our customers every few months, even if they haven't done business with us in a while. That way, we know they'll keep us in mind if they do need us for a program. And we find that, even if they don't have any immediate business for us, they're constantly referring new customers our way.

Any small business can send out a flyer or postcard every few months announcing a sale, introducing a new product or a new staff member. This technique has been used for many years. Recently, I was at an antique show looking through old postcards of New York City. I found one postmarked February 11, 1928. This is an early example of Direct Marketing — Mrs. Fannie Goldberg, from Kirson's store in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania sent a postcard to one of her customers announcing her buying trip in New York City. I guarantee that Mrs. Goldberg's 2 cents personalized mailing was as effective as any of today's million-dollar computerized marketing efforts.

I'm usually a loyal shopper, but if I don't hear from a business for a long time, I start to wonder if they care about me as a customer. I imagine they've gone out of business. I look for a new place to shop. I'd be much more inclined to go in and shop at a store that sent me a personalized note, even one as simple as Mrs. Goldberg's, from time to time. When you work at establishing long-term relationships through Direct Marketing, you find that the money you lay out to keep a customer really pays off in the long run.


Dispelling Direct Marketing Myths

We here at Lois K. Geller Company Inc. Direct Marketing never use the "J" word when referring to the tons of mail we receive offering products and services for sale. We know that some people consider it "junk" and speak disparagingly about Direct Marketing. But that's only because they don't have the facts and figures at hand, nor have they had the more than 20 years of experience in the field that we have. Our experience in Direct Marketing enables us to dispel several myths:

Myth No. 1. "I never respond to Direct Marketing."

People tell me this all the time. They complain about all the "junk" mail they receive and say they simply throw it away. Yet when you actually get into a conversation, they tell you how many gifts they've ordered from catalogs, credit cards they've ordered from a telemarketer, and coupons they've clipped from magazines or newspapers. Or they tell you about a product they just ordered from a television infomercial or a home shopping network. The truth is that these are all forms of Direct Marketing, and Direct Marketing is now part of the way we live. In a time when both spouses are usually working, people have less and less time to go out and shop. Almost all consumers use Direct Marketing at one time or another as an alternative to retail shopping.

Myth No. 2: "It's easier to sell retail."

It may seem that way. You put the product in the retail store, and it either sells or it doesn't. But you have no control over that sale. You may not have any input as to how your product is being marketed, where it's positioned in the store, or how long it stays out on the shelf. Another disadvantage is that for retail, all the products have to be manufactured up front. Then, whatever is not sold is returned to you. In Direct Marketing, you can produce the products as you need them. And what happens if the retailer you're dealing with goes out of business? Even if you use Direct Marketing as a secondary means of distributing your product, you have a much stronger base for future sales. If the retailer closes, or no longer wants your product, you'll still have your own direct mail list of customers to whom you can continue to sell.

Myth No. 3: "My advertisement in the local paper does very well. I don't need Direct Marketing."

How do you know that your ad is attracting customers? How do you know how many people came into your store because of the ad, or how many were just passing by, or how many heard of you through a friend? With Direct Marketing, you do know. Send out a mailing, or put an ad in the paper that includes a coupon that says, "Bring this coupon into the store and get a 20 percent discount," and you'll know how many people responded by the number of coupons you receive. You have an immediate method of calculating the results of your marketing dollars.

Myth No. 4. "I tried Direct Marketing and it didn't work for me."

We're back to the concept of testing again (which we'll go into in detail in Chapter 2). It's possible that you may have sent your offer to the wrong people. Or the wrong offer to the right people. There are a number of variables, and just because one try didn't work out, doesn't mean the next one won't. While you are reading this book, you will discover how to choose the right target audience, and you will make them an offer they won't refuse.

A Direct Marketing Success Story

As you read this book, you'll find profiles of Direct Marketing campaigns that were actually, and successfully, used by large and small businesses across the U.S. and Canada. These will illustrate how the tools and techniques described in each chapter work in the real world. To give you an overview of an extremely successful campaign, we'll start with what came to be known as the Ford Women's Campaign.

In 1986 I was working at Vickers & Benson Direct in Canada. Ken Harrigan, who was at the time chairman of Ford of Canada, called about a problem Ford was having getting women into the Ford dealerships across Canada. They had no effective sales training for selling cars to women, and they were losing market share to General Motors, who had implemented a successful training program. Ford of Canada found itself behind the times.

Ford had already tried a few programs, including one offering a cut-glass dish to women who came into the showroom. The women double-parked outside, came in, asked for the dish, and left! So just offering a premium was obviously not the way to go.

Our research showed that most women hated going to car dealerships. Not only were they treated poorly, or completely ignored, but they also felt cars were something they knew nothing about. The funny thing is that, through the same research, we found that men didn't know anything about cars either — they just wouldn't admit it. But buying a car often produced a lot of anxiety for women, who are very cautious car buyers. They do a lot of homework, and often visit several dealerships before making a purchase.

And the Survey Says...

We realized that the way to woo women customers was to begin a dialogue with them, and to continue to talk to them until they were ready to buy a car. Then, at the exact time they were ready to buy, we would invite them into the dealership. But how would we know when they were ready? We asked them. We decided to send out a survey, and we mailed it to 200,000 women across Canada. At the time, there were few lists available in Canada (see Chapter 3 for a full explanation of lists), so we used Canadian segments of U.S. lists, and we mailed to women who were subscribers to Money magazine and Working Woman, to women who were on investment lists, and to career women. We also mailed to women who had recently made large purchases, such as major appliances and Craftmatic beds.

We asked these women what kind of car they were currently driving, their income level, what they looked for in a new car, and when they next intended to buy. Enclosed was a letter from Ken Harrigan, telling them how interested he was in their response. As a gift for filling out the survey, we offered a book called "Car and Light Truck Buying Made Easier."

In Direct Marketing, a response rate of 2 percent is considered highly successful. We got about 30 percent. The campaign had worked not only as an information-gathering process, but as the beginning of a relationship-building program. Women sent back the surveys accompanied by pictures of themselves, their families, and their cars, with cards that read, "It was so nice of you ask. This is what our car looks like." We knew we had a good start, but we now had to translate these results into customers buying cars.

The $200 Hot Buyer Incentive

From the survey, we tabulated and databased three basic pieces of information: customers' names and addresses, the kind of car they currently drove, and when they intended to buy their next car. We divided these into hot, warm, and cold categories. "Hot" meant they would be buying a car within 0 to 3 months, "warm" meant between 3 and 6 months, and "cold" meant 6 months to a year.

We sent the women on the hot list an incentive in the form of a $200 check from Ken Harrigan, to thank them again for filling out the survey. We told them to go into the dealership, make the best deal they could with the salesperson, and then hand them the $200 check. We got another great response, and further strengthened our customer relationships. Almost 50 percent of the people who received checks wrote us thank-you notes. And more than 8 percent of those women actually became Ford car buyers!

Then we had to decide what to do with the warm and cold lists. We knew they weren't quite ready to buy a car, but we didn't want to lose them. So we sent them a newsletter, the Ford "Canadian Driver's News." The editor-in-chief was Lyn St. James, an American race-car driver and garage owner. The newsletter contained articles such as "How to Get Your Car Started on a Cold Canadian Day" and "What to Do When You're Stuck on an Ice Patch." This was our way of continuing our relationship with the women who had responded to our survey until they were ready to buy.

As the months went by, we rotated the database: after three months, we sent the $200 hot buyers' incentive to women who had originally been on the warm list. We did the same thing six months later, when the cold list became hot.

There was another interesting fact that came out of this program. Our own bias had made us think that women were going to be buying Ford Escorts and less expensive cars. We were wrong. A large percentage of them bought trucks and the more expensive cars. So not only did we get a huge response and conversion-to-buy rate, we also sold the most expensive items.

Adapt the Concepts to Fit Your Business

If you're a small to midsize business owner or entrepreneur, you probably won't want to do a 200,000 piece mailing. But you can do a similar program, on a much smaller scale, to bring customers into your store. For instance, suppose you owned a small gift and hobby shop called the Gift Gallery, and you wanted to attract more male customers. You could rent a mailing list of 5,000 names (the usual minimum) of men in your vicinity who were subscribers to various hobby magazines, who belonged to certain clubs or sports teams, or whatever criteria fit your needs. You wouldn't have to mail to all 5,000 names at once; you could send several smaller mailings.

You might want to try a survey the way Ford did. Lens Express, a company that sells contact lenses via Direct Marketing, includes the survey shown in Figure 1.4 when it ships out orders. People love to be asked for their opinion. So you could send a letter or a card saying, "We at the Gift Gallery are thinking about expanding our hobby department, and we'd like to know what you look for when you shop for your hobby." You could ask questions like, "What are your present hobbies?" "Where do you currently shop for your supplies?" "Are there any supplies that are difficult to find?" "What items would you like to see our hobby department carry?" Then you could offer an inexpensive premium or a special discount for anyone who filled out the survey form.

To take this one step further, you can break your responses into various categories. Your survey gave you specific information about your customers' hobbies; therefore you might want to build separate lists such as dollhouse builders, military figurine collectors, and model-train buffs. Then, if you were having a sale on dollhouse miniatures, you could send a focused, targeted mailing to the people on your list who fall into that category.

So the responses you get will help you in two ways: first, you'll be able to make more informed decisions about how to stock and market your new hobby department; second, you'll build your mailing list with names of people who have shown a definite interest in what you have to sell. From this list, you can build ongoing relationships. Ford created a newsletter to keep relationships going. Instead of a newsletter, you could send postcards announcing a new product, a special sale for survey responders, or a simple reminder that hobby supplies are now available at the Gift Gallery.

Choosing a Product to Sell

Some people use Direct Marketing to increase sales of a service or product they're already marketing. Others use Direct Marketing to break into sales, and must decide what they want to sell, and to whom.

How do you find a product to sell? Some people who hope they'll make a fortune in direct response seem to think that any product will do. I've had potential clients come to my office and say, "I found a fantastic product at the merchandise show and I think it will sell like hotcakes!" But they don't really know anything about the product. They don't know its value. They don't know who would want to buy it, nor do they know how much competition there is out there.

Joseph England, veteran Direct Marketing entrepreneur and creator of hundreds of successful direct response ads, advises, "If someone has an existing business, they would be smart not to stray too far from home. They know their products, they know their markets, and they may be able to find something special that will appeal to their customers. If a person wants to advertise a product they don't know a lot about, to a market about which they are uncertain...the seeds for disaster are sown."

One of the most profitable direct response campaigns I ever worked on took place at the time of the marriage of Lady Diana and Prince Charles. A very knowledgeable stamp collector had access to some exquisite stamps issued by the Isle of Guernsey, featuring the royal newlyweds. Because this collector knew the value and appeal of these stamps, and knew who the market was, we sold several thousand stamps from small space ads in the back of some consumer and philatelist magazines.

TIP In evaluating a product you're thinking of marketing, ask yourself these questions:

* Is this product unique?

* If it's similar to other products, is it better than they are? More attractive? Higher quality?

* Does it fill a need people have?

* Does it solve a common problem?

* If it doesn't solve a problem or fill a need, is it aesthetically pleasing? Entertaining? Fun?

* Does it have an interesting story behind it? (E.g., "Each figurine is hand painted with authentic Native-American symbols representing spirits of the earth and sky.")

* Is it something I would buy for myself, my friends, or my family?

You must know your market thoroughly for a direct marketing campaign to succeed. Visualize your target audience. Who is most likely to buy your product? Who, for instance, might buy the Littlest Reindeer pendant, another Joe England creation and a perennial best-seller? This product is a perfect inexpensive stocking stuffer. Use your imagination to create a portrait of an ideal prospect. Make a list of their characteristics. The Littlest Reindeer buyer's portrait might include:

* Young mother with several children

* Middle- to low-income

* Drives a Ford or a Chevrolet (as opposed to a foreign car)

* Lives in a suburban or rural area

Once you have completed your first portrait, your next step is to broaden your potential customer base and think about who else might buy your product. For instance, the Littlest Reindeer might also appeal to grandparents, especially since there is a discount offer for buying more than one. You would keep going with your list until you have exhausted the possibilities of potential buyers for your product.

You can use the survey tactics of Ford and Lens Express, but on a smaller scale. Ask people you know what they think about your product, and how much they might be willing to pay for it. Once you get to know your potential customers, you can design a Direct Marketing campaign directed specifically to them.

The Small-Firm Advantage

It might seem that a company like Ford has all the advantages when it comes to designing and implementing a Direct Marketing campaign. But that's not necessarily true. In large companies, office politics often gets in the way of cohesive marketing plans.

The people who allocate marketing funds disagree over how to spend them; departments fight over specific marketing tactics. There can be turf battles among the people responsible for each marketing function: advertising, promotion, public relations, and Direct Marketing. Each of these specialties has its own purpose and function:

* Advertising's function is to position a product or company, to build an image that will stay in a customer's mind.

* Promotion's job is to find unusual ways to get people into your store or to try your product. Promotion includes free samples, contests, sweepstakes.

* Public relations exists to get free exposure for your product. That means getting a story in newspapers or magazines, and/or making a guest appearance on radio and television talk shows. When I worked on the Olympic coin campaign, we arranged to have one of our coins tossed at the Super Bowl. When the announcers talked about the fact that an Olympic coin was being tossed, we got about $2 million worth of free publicity.

* Direct Marketing's job is to get an immediate order — to get you to go right over to the phone and place an order or to send in a coupon or order form with your money enclosed.

Each of the marketing specialties has a place in a unified marketing campaign. Yet in large companies, it's often more difficult to get all the interested parties to cooperate. In fact, they often try to compete with each other and end up accomplishing less than the best results.

I truly believe that the small entrepreneur has the best opportunity to put together a cohesive, integrated marketing program. A small-business owner with a clear vision can often do a lot more with a small amount of money than many major companies can do with their big budgets and internal political challenges.

Play Up Your Personality

The greatest strength any company has is its own unique personality. Although small companies may do this more easily, Frank Purdue, Orville Redenbacher, and Ben and Jerry work hard to give their large companies small-business personalities. Direct Marketing gives you an opportunity to let your customers know exactly who you are, and to build your business on the strength of that image.

When you send out a mailing that represents your company, it's as if you were employing a force of hundreds of salespeople going directly to your customers' homes to sell your product or service. And these salespeople reflect your company's image, whether it's country charm or chic sophistication, strict professionalism or down-home hospitality.

Dr. Jan Teitelbaum and Dr. Siri Smith (a husband-and-wife team) run a neighborhood chiropractic office in New York City. They are warm, caring people in person, and their mailings reflect that very well. In December, they sponsor a toy drive for children who are HIV positive or have AIDS. Their mailer focuses on the toy drive, but (because the doctors are smart marketers) it also includes an offer for a free visit for new patients, and some information about pinched nerves.

The doctors do no other advertising. They rely on referrals for their new business, which frequently come as a result of the mailings they do four to six times a year. Dr. Jan (as his patients call him) sends out two types of mailings. The first type is what he calls the "hello, I'm still alive, informational" mailing. The purpose of this is to educate his patients, and keep his name in patients' minds. The second type is a mailing which combines a toy or food drive for the needy with a promotional offer. This mailing not only reminds his patients of Dr. Jan's services; it reinforces his image as a kind, caring individual — qualities you often look for in a health professional.

Dr. Jan is living proof that Direct Marketing doesn't have to be complicated, ultrasophisticated, or high-tech to be effective. "I keep a big folder of flyers and newsletters friends have sent me over the years, and they get recycled. I pick out the ones I like best and try to make mine look like that. I paste the components of my newsletter together with a glue stick, include an article I've written or copy I want to use, and send it to the printer, who typesets it for me. He sends it to me for approval, and I look at it and say, 'Can you make this bigger?' or 'Can you make this a little smaller?'"

Even the actual mailing is done the old-fashioned way. Dr. Jan keeps his 2,000-name mailing list on a computerized program (one designed specifically for chiropractors), but the labels and stamps are attached by hand by the office staff. "Everyone here picks up a pile, takes some home at night, and sticks and stamps," the doctor says.

Dr. Jan feels it's important that his mailings reflect the atmosphere and philosophy of his office. "There are several companies that offer predesigned mailers with four-color graphics I could purchase," he says. "But they're very general, and they're not me. I'd rather do it myself. I do the mailing because I think it's the right thing to do for my patients and for my business. Everyone in the world knows the name Coca-Cola, yet they still have commercials on TV every five minutes. I think repetition is important, especially because chiropractic isn't necessarily part of everyone's natural train of thought. One of my jobs is to disseminate information. That's really why I do this, and I think it works."

With Direct Marketing, no matter what the size of your business, you can form personal relationships with your customers. And in today's impersonal world, making that connection is what will keep customers coming back again and again.

The DM Questionnaire

Since it's been proven that surveys and questionnaires are an effective involvement device, here's one for you. Fill it out before you go on to read the rest of the book. Keep your answers in mind as you read the following chapters; you'll want to add to them as you learn about the specifics of Direct Marketing.

What are some of the offers you've responded to recently in direct mail, magazine or newspaper advertising, or on television offers?

What made you respond to these offers? What was the "closer" that made you go for your checkbook or credit card?

What kind of personality would you like to convey for your business? Sophisticated? Down-home country? Politically concerned? Next-door neighbor? Strictly business?

If you currently have a retail store, how could you put your store in the mail? How could you get the feeling and flair of your store across in a direct mail piece? For example, would you use humor, your expertise in the industry, the quality of your merchandise?

Visualize your typical customers. Are they male or female? With children? Homeowners? Renters? Income?

What is the main reason your customers buy your product or use your service?

What kind of a test could you run using direct mail you're currently sending? Could you test the offer (e.g., a free sample, or 20 percent off your first order), or how the piece is worded, or the list of people to whom it is sent?

How can you make your current advertising work harder for you? What special offers might attract people into your store or get them to use your services?

If you were to survey your customers to learn more about them, what would you ask?

If you've tried Direct Marketing in the past, how could you improve your ad or your mailing piece? What would you do differently now?

Copyright © 1996 by Lois K. Geller

Meet the Author

Lois K. Geller is president of Mason & Geller Direct Marketing in New York City and counts leading corporations, small businesses, and entrepreneurs from around the world among her clients. She teaches Direct Marketing at New York University and is the winner of a gold ECHO Award, eight Andy Awards, and several gold CDMA RSVP Awards.
Seth Godin is author of Permission Marketing and Unleashing the Idea Virus.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >