Promotional ideas that actually work.
By Ron Rosenberg
These are difficult times in the specialty fabrics industry, as in most industries. Customers are becoming more demanding; revenues are down; and promotional strategies that worked in the past aren’t as effective as they used to be.
The good news: It doesn’t have to be that way.
There is an incredible variety of proven strategies available to get prospects to come looking for you, instead of the other way around. And, as a bonus, these strategies are unique, effective, and fun to implement!
How do you change your approach to start getting better results? Quite simply, you must focus on strategies that will bring you tangible, measurable results. To do that, you need only remember the “3 M’s of Marketing”:
The secret to successfully marketing any product or service is to get the right message to the right market using the right media. Get this right and new business will start coming your way. Miss connecting on even one of these three, and you’ll be scratching your head wondering why you’re getting beaten up by your competition.
Message: What do you want them to do?
When you construct a marketing piece—whether it’s a sales letter, a website, a post card, or a print ad—you must be very clear on what you’re trying to communicate, and precisely what action you want the prospect to take.
There are 12 components that must be in every successful marketing piece (see “The Compelling Copy Checklist,” above). Omitting even one of these can have serious consequences. And considering that most of the examples I receive for critique only have two or three of those 12 components, the opportunity for improvement is significant.
For example, take a look at number 2: the killer headline. The purpose of the headline is simple: Get the reader to read the next line. And the sad truth is that the name of your company and your company’s logo are not the killer headline. “Cut your energy costs by 50 percent,” however, could grab the reader.
And number 7: overcoming objections. You need to understand why people aren’t buying from you to be able to identify their objections and explain clearly why these objections are really not relevant. Fortunately, the best and most effective way to accomplish this is with number 8: the testimonial, a powerful motivating tool virtually everyone ignores.
Where most people really drop the ball is with number 9: the definite and urgent call to action. Just as salespeople are taught to “ask for the sale,” your marketing materials should do the same thing. And “call for more information,” accompanied by a phone number and generic website address, is not an effective call to action. A postcard from a local plumbing business, for example, saying that they will have service people in your neighborhood and offering to eliminate the service charge if you schedule an appointment during a certain week … that calls for action.
Market: Hey, this is just for me!
Whenever I ask people who their customers are, they always respond, “Everyone!” I suppose that’s promising in a way, but it’s very expensive to market to “everyone,” considering that there are more than 514 million people in North America alone.
When I ask them to clarify and drill down, inevitably we identify four or five specific niche markets that use their products. That begs the question, “How many brochures do you have, then?” Even as they tell me that they have only one marketing brochure, they realize that this is the wrong answer.
If you have five specific target markets, it’s virtually guaranteed that your customers in those markets will have different needs, different expectations and different uses in mind for your products. Assuming that’s true, how can a single one-size-fits-all brochure, ad or sales message truly connect with them?
For several months, I’ve been receiving a series of offers in the mail to purchase various “miniature schnauzer” items: decorative plates, ceramic Christmas trees, statuettes … even fleece jackets, all with miniature schnauzer themes. I’ve been receiving these for the simple reason that we actually own a schnauzer. And since the company that produces these offers has gone to incredible lengths to discover this fact specifically to be able to sell to these dog owners, I imagine that these offers will continue to show up in our mail.
This is the concept of the message-to-market match, and it’s one of the most important concepts to embrace if you want your marketing and advertising to be effective—and profitable.
You wouldn’t dream of sending an offer for a steakhouse to a list of vegetarians; in the same sense, it’s absolutely essential to customize and personalize your communications as much as possible, so that when people see your message, they all think, “Hey, this company gets us! They understand what we’re all about.”
Media: Okay, you know who I am. Now what?
So you’ve crafted an effective message you know will get people to respond. What now? They have to read it in order to give you the desired response. That’s where the fun really starts. The sidebar “Sources of Lead Generation” shows 13 different potential sources for generating new leads.
Some of them will use a traditional-style ad format, like magazines, newsletters, and phone directories. Others will challenge you to use those 12 components to take full advantage of their potential. How should you decide which ones to use, and what about the cost involved in some types of media?
The quick answer is that this is not the time to be cheap. Too often, the first thing businesses do when faced with falling revenues and difficult market conditions is panic. They cut back on training, implement hiring freezes, and bring travel to a screeching halt—even when that travel is truly necessary to bolster revenues.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Because the next thing to go are the marketing and advertising budgets, which has the undesirable yet highly predictable effect of putting an abrupt stop to most new business leads.
When selecting high-level strategies in general—and individual media in particular—it’s far more important to focus on measureable return on investment than on initial expense or cost. Remember, when it’s done right, marketing isn’t an expense— it’s an investment with an extremely high rate of return.
Many businesseses can’t seem to get their heads around this, so they focus all their efforts on (supposedly) free media such as e-mail and social media platforms. These can be an effective way to reach certain groups of customers, but they also have their own set of problems, including deliverability issues, spam filtering for e-mail, and a questionable return on investment. Delivery may be free, but the platform to create the materials, and the knowledgeable staff to use those platforms, are not.
Fortunately, there is a proven, time-tested and highly effective strategy at your disposal: use the postal service. That’s right: mail. Yes, in this age of electronic communications, this may seem like a return to the Dark Ages, but there are several advantages to consider:
Because everyone else is pulling back from direct mail, there’s less clutter in people’s mailboxes, and your mailings will stand out more and grab the prospect’s attention.
It’s more difficult to throw out a well-designed mailing piece than it is to hit the “delete” button on your computer.
Low-cost media, such as post cards, can be used to drive traffic to specific “landing pages” on your website.
How to get read
What most companies do, whether sending an introductory piece or responding to a potential customer’s request, is send out a pocket folder, stuffed with literature, with a business card inserted into the die-cut slits on the flap. Or worse, they send a boring letter in a plain white #10 business envelope.
The pocket folder is going to get tossed, and the white envelope isn’t even going to get opened.
Why not? Because they’re boring. Think about your mail at home. You bring the pile into the kitchen, near the garbage or recycling bin, and flip through it one piece at a time. A bill? Into the “keep” pile. Credit card offer? Into the trash. A colorful, oversized envelope that clearly has something bulky inside? You’d probably stop right there and open that one first.
Why not take advantage of that impulse reaction in your own marketing? And as long as you’re sending out some mail, you might as well do it right and send a minimum of three pieces, spaced about a week apart. On average, if you send a three-letter sequence, the response you get to the second and third mailings combined will equal or exceed the response you get from the first piece alone. To put it differently: If you only send out one piece, you’re leaving half the new business on the table.
A campaign with at least three steps might look like this: For the first piece, you could fold your compelling letter and tape it to an inexpensive “silver platter.” Put the letter and platter in a priority envelope. What does the letter say? It could start with a headline something like this: An offer so incredible we had to present it to you on a silver platter.
Then, say you attach a cheap calculator and invite your prospects to use it to complete the worksheet on page two of the letter to see how much they can save using your product. Or include a pen, and tell them to use that pen to make a list on page three of the five biggest challenges they’re facing in their businesses. You can include your name and contact information on the pen and calculator to keep that information in front of the customer for a while, but the chief reason to use promotional items like these is to increase the customer’s involvement and have them interact with your letter—right away.
Always include a deadline on the offer, because without a hard deadline, such as “You must respond by Monday, February 15, at 4:57 p.m,” people will toss your letter in a pile to look at later—which essentially means never.
If your prospects don’t respond to that initial mailing, you could send them a second mailing, this one in a round mailing tube with an hourglass inside. This time, your letter is rolled up inside the tube and starts with “Time is running out …”
And if they don’t respond to that mailing, try sending a third letter, this one actually crumpled up into a ball and delivered in a miniature, stainless steel trash can. When they open the lid, remove the ball of paper and flatten it out, they’ll be greeted by the humorous and highly effective headline: “In case you were thinking of throwing out my letter …”
Remember, the purpose of a headline is to get the reader to read the next line. Nothing more, and nothing less. A crumpled-up letter delivered in a miniature trash can will get read. More importantly, it will get read with a smile on that person’s face—exactly the state you want them in as they consider your offer. Then present the benefits of your products to the readers—the benefits for them, not for you.
Does it cost money to use direct mail? Yes, it does. But when you know the “secret number,” all effective marketing is arguably free. That secret number, the key to unlocking your marketing potential: lifetime value.
Simply put, lifetime value is how much revenue you can realistically expect to receive from a typical customer over the life of your relationship with them. If you already know this number, then congratulations; you’re a member of a very small group. If you don’t, then you’re in luck, because it will take all of 37 seconds to figure it out—and you can do it right now.
Take a look at the sidebar “Lifetime Customer Value” and select a representative customer. On line 1, write the amount of a typical sale. On line 2, write down the number of sales you will make in the course of a year. Multiply these two numbers together to compute Annual Customer Value. On line 4, enter the number of years you expect to continue to sell to this type of customer. Multiply lines 3 and 4, and you’ll have that Lifetime Customer Value.
If you’re like most business people, this number is likely to be significantly higher than expected. That’s a good thing. If you came up with a number like $100,000, for example, you’re in a great position. With a value that high, you could easily spend $500, $1,000, or even $5,000 to acquire another similar customer. Once you’re thinking in terms of Annual Customer Value, the initial expense to send out a three-step mailing becomes much less significant. The key is to make sure that mailing is going to the right prospects.
The major roadblocks to successful marketing and business growth are:
- Being boring
- Being interchangeable
If people perceive you as being interchangeable with your competition, you’ll find yourself in a price war. If people see that you’re different—in what you offer, in how you offer it, in how you connect with and service your customers—you’ll stand out from the crowd. You’ll attract their interest and put yourself in the enviable position of having customers seek you out. Once they’re interested, it’s up to you and your staff to close the deal.