Direct Response marketing (mail and selling off the page)
Selling direct: avoiding the pitfalls
With the supermarkets controlling more and more sectors, small firms are increasingly looking to sell direct and develop their own customer base. Because you obtain retail doesn’t make it immediately more profitable. The three main routes are:
• direct mail/mail order
• selling off the page
• and of course the internet
Here’s some guidance:
The first rule of marketing is to identify the target audience. Spend as much time on compiling your list of prospects as thinking about what you want to say to them. It is that important because the right message to the wrong people is money wasted. That list, once you have struck the right profile, is your most valuable commodity. Lists are by definition collections of names, of real people, with a common interest, be they stamp collectors, vintage car enthusiasts, chemists or timber importers. If you always think of them as people and not just addresses all your promotions will be human.
There is a very good chance that someone already holds the list that you want. But there are pitfalls in using existing lists. We live in a fluid world. The national average for moving house is once every eight years, with regional variations. Putting it another way, a list of householders will be 12 per cent inaccurate in a year's time. The commercial world is not much better: hundreds of businesses a month close their doors - either through liquidation, merger or because their owners have had enough.
You can build your list from a variety of sources:
- From your own internal records.
- Compiled from publicly available lists in yearbooks, directories, Yellow Pages, etc.
- Bought-in lists from databases or list brokers. These are specialist agencies which deal solely in tracking down and renting or selling mailing lists.
The most productive list will be your own. You are sending out a proposition to customers who already know you and have dealt with your staff and products before. Concentrate on these first. Work through your sales ledger, exhibition visitors' book, reps' leads, enquiries to ads, guarantee cards - any source that will yield names and contacts of relevance. Never throw away a name.
If your own list is not big enough or you want to expand, there are several directions to pursue. Look in the Directory of British Associations and Current British Directories (in good reference libraries) for leads. Some association secretaries will rent out their list of members or you can, somewhat laboriously, copy out the list you want from a library copy. Most of the lists will probably already be held on a computer file somewhere. Your list broker will find out the details.
The Yellow Pages databank for the country is available for trades and industry in 2,700 categories. You need not order names for the whole country but can split down precisely to post code districts. (www.yelldirect.com)
Many journals will rent out their circulation listings. This is usually a reliable source as readers tend to keep the publisher advised of changes of address. Compiled lists can cover literally everything. You can even rent a list of wealthy people. Consumer and industrial lists are built up from a variety of sources. A consumers' list could be nothing more refined than the electoral roll split up into districts. Some are often replies to adverts - enquirers rather than purchasers - though you can get access to these as well.
Mailing lists are rented (occasionally bought) from list brokers. The names are derived from magazine subscribers, shareholders, exhibition attendees, club membership lists etc. Cost varies from £100/1000 names upwards. Send at least four items: sales letter, enquiry/order form, brochure and reply envelope. The sales letter should be as personal as you can make it (never Dear Sir/Madam).
Writing a compulsive sales letters is an art: you know who to turn to . . .
Selling off the page (small ads)
Small ads are a popular medium for new small firms, but so many expect too much from a modest expenditure. A national paper will charge around £100 for a space not much bigger than a large postage stamp. Strangely enough I haven't yet found a paper that has researched the response to its own columns. My own small sample suggests that you can expect at best 30 enquiries for each insertion, and this is from a Sunday paper with a circulation of over 1 million copies. As you are required to deliver the goods within 28 days of receiving the order it is obviously important that supplies are to hand. Some rules for successful small ads are:
1. Don't cram too much into your copy. Go for one headline that proclaims your main selling benefit.
2. Use a good illustration. Because of the cramped space in this instance a line drawing is probably better than a photo.
3. Give clear instructions on how to order - include a web address and/or phone number.
4. Always give a cast-iron guarantee - `Money back if not delighted.'
5. Timing is very important. Most small ad sales are impulse purchases, so take account of seasonal influences, weather, holidays, etc.
6. Always state the price and keep postage as a separate item.
7. Quote the delivery time.
8. Avoid box numbers - response is poor.
9. Key your ads so you know where the response is coming from.
10. Avoid fragile items and ones that require elaborate packing.
11. Make a good offer- `Buy one, get one free (BOGOF).'
12. Sell one of a series. Avoid isolated products that do not lead to further desirable items.
13. Refund the cost of a catalogue by knocking it off the price of the first order.
14. Don't be too ambitious in going for high-priced items. Keep your promotion in the lower range. Once you've got your prospects hooked tempt them with your de luxe items.
15. Advertise in papers and magazines that carry a lot of small ads with, of course, similar products to your own. Don't be a trailblazer.
16. Handle all returns and complaints promptly. Dissatisfied customers can quickly get you into bad odour with the journals, apart from being bad business ethically and commercially.
18. If space permits, always use a coupon.
Most newspapers and magazines require you to comply with the Safe Home Order Protection Scheme (see www.shops.org.uk.) Don’t expect to make a profit on your first insertion (”repetition is reputation”). Profit comes from selling more goods to the segment you have identified (those who reply to your ad).
And make sure you monitor for results so you know which ad in which mag pulled the most. (Cut out and paste in a scrapbook with results beside).
Selling off the internet
With billions of websites out there, mass market suppliers will have their work cut out. Niche providers stand much more chance simply because Google will find them easier. Remember that websites should:
• be easy to navigate
• provide easy to find information
• make ordering simple off a secure site
• be frequently updated
• provide a community feel
• encourage feedback with promise of swift response
More on websites, click here.