Friday, June 24, 2011

Marketing as an Underdog

Have you ever watched a small, passionate business overcome challenges and succeed when the odds are against them? While getting your feet off the ground may be tough, there are actually several advantages to marketing as an underdog. Here are a few reasons why customers love and support the underdogs, especially during difficult economic times:
  • Customers relate to the underdog's passion and determination to succeed against the odds.

  • Underdogs often start local. By supporting them, you are also supporting your community.

  • Underdogs will work harder at keeping your loyalty, while business giants may view you as just another fish in the sea.

  • Underdogs often resolve any issues much faster and change rules or policies easily to better accommodate their customers.

  • Underdogs are often smaller and can take on creative opportunities or risks that business giants won't consider.

  • Even if companies grow large, people identify with them easier when they understand the journey the company has had to endure along the way.
As Vince Lombardi once said, "It's not whether you get knocked down; it's whether you get up." If your business has an encouraging story to tell about how your business persevered, share it in your marketing materials, website, blog, etc. Stories about overcoming adversity are a great way to connect and strengthen relationships with prospects and customers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Being Direct Can Improve Your Bottom Line

Finding new customers for your products and services can be a challenge at any time, but in today's economic environment, it can be even more critical to the health and well-being of your company. Smart marketers are continually on the lookout for effective methods that will bring new leads into their sales cycle funnel. The challenge for businesses today is the same as it has always been:
  • Find new, profitable customers.

  • Communicate, educate, nurture, and serve them.

  • Build a bond and relationship so they continually come back to you.
The difference today is that marketing budgets are getting cut to the bone, making it more difficult to recover from a dud campaign. So finding a cost-effective return on your ad spend investment is especially important. There can be no denying the compelling case made by the new tools of search engine marketing, email marketing, and social media marketing. However, in the frantic search for cost-effective marketing, it's easy to forget one of the most powerful tools still available to you: direct mail. Dollar for dollar, direct-mail marketing, when done correctly, results in more sales than any other marketing medium available. You may be able to get in front of more eyeballs with Google, Facebook, Twitter, and email blasts, but if the majority of those are not interested in your products or services, really how cost-effective is that?

As the shiny-new-object feel of online and social media are starting to wear off, more marketers are demanding proof of ROI. New media companies have been feverishly trying to figure out how to solve the problem of getting your message in front of a relevant audience. There have been improvements, but there is still a long way to go. In reality, they are trying to solve a problem that direct-mail marketing solved a long time ago. What may have been forgotten (or maybe never learned) is that just like with anything else worthwhile in life, a successful direct-mail campaign requires real homework. There is no simple "Send" button. It requires thinking, and in today's immediate gratification, microwave oven, frantic world, this is a tougher proposition.

A successful direct-mail campaign is not as daunting or difficult as it may seem. It requires a pen and paper (remember those!), some data, quiet time, and your brain. Here are the basic steps involved:

Step1: Take a look at your existing customer database. Find out who your best current customers are. Learn as much as you can about them: what industries they are in, the size of their company, how many years they have been in business, their approximate sales per year, etc. The more data you can find, the better.

Step 2: Pick one or two out of those customers, and think about why they are using your services. It is best if you can call them or invite them to coffee and ask them directly. Tell them exactly why you are asking (because you want more customers just like them). Most people would be honored to hear this and will share a lot of very useful info with you. Ask them questions and listen to their answers. You want to find out not only why they are using your company but also what their concerns are and what keeps them up at night (in relation to the types of products and services you sell).

Step 3: Based on your findings, create a direct-mail piece that clearly answers the concerns of your target audience. The piece needs to be visually appealing and have a clear call to action (call you, take advantage of a special discount, come see you, go to your website... you get the point). Don't hide or bury this call to action. Make it very easy to find.

Step 4: Now it is time to find contact information for more of the types of people you identified in step one. This is where direct mail really shines and where it holds a big advantage over all other media. With the huge amount of very detailed data compiled on businesses and consumers, you can find just about any type of mailing list imaginable with a little effort. Your goal here is to find characteristics and demographics that most closely match your best current customers.

Step 5: When you reach the right prospects at the right time with the right type of message, your mail is not "junk mail." It is actually as close as you can get to legally printing money!

Repeat the above steps as often as your budget allows. It's best to mail monthly or at least quarterly. Not every prospect on your list is ready to buy today, but if you mail consistently, you can bet they will remember you because you made the effort to stay top of mind. If your budget is tight right now, mail to fewer prospects until your budget grows. But don't wait!

The point here is not to demean or belittle other forms of advertising and marketing. It is just a reminder not to forget about one of the most powerful tools you have in your marketing arsenal. It is not shiny or new, but it is proven, effective, and extremely powerful if used correctly.

Friday, June 17, 2011

It's all about how you say it

Marketing that is misleading or deceptive is poor business practice. Not only will misleading marketing cause distrust, but it will also damage your company's reputation. While the following can be used legitimately, here are a few of the top culprits that can often make marketing messages appear misleading:

* Free. While the word "free" may grab attention, it should always be followed by detailed information about the offer to ensure the marketing message isn't misleading. For example, if your promotion highlights a "free gift bag," be sure to include expanded details if necessary regarding how to acquire the free gift, such as "free gift bag with $50 purchase."

* Up to... Marketing messages that say "up to XX percent off" are often misleading and cause disappointment amongst customers who arrive for a sale and find very few items at the advertised XX percent discount. Not only can a false impression annoy customers, but it will also make them leery of future sales and promotions.

* Limited Time Offer. Sales and limited time offers are legit; however, low tactics to fake time sensitivity are not. For example, if your website says "offer ends at midnight tonight" (no matter which day a customer sees it on), those who rush to buy will feel cheated when they return to the site later and see the identical promotion. A legitimate sale deadline will make customers feel more confident with their purchases.

There is no need to avoid these words entirely when promoting your business or special offers. Just remember to use clarity in your messaging. Honest, straightforward communications increase customer retention and loyalty, which also means more profits for you.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How can you come up with more ideas for content?

Coming up with ideas for fresh, new content for offline marketing and the new digital world can be a constant and ongoing battle. The need for content creation has become a hungry, never fully satisfied monster that must be tamed. It simply cannot be ignored if you want your website to rank high in search engines, your blog to be read regularly, and your direct mail to have the intended effect on your target audience.

Google has clearly stated, in no uncertain terms, that relevant, quality content is key to where your website ranks in its search engines. No matter how great your printed materials look, if the content falls flat, you won't get the results you hope for. Clearly, having very good content can be your competitive advantage in all of your marketing efforts, so it is worth your time to invest in improving the quality of what you have to say.

Idea generation can take its sweet time if you sit back and wait for inspiration to strike. Even though ideas by necessity come from a creative process, nevertheless, you must have a planned approach and a systematic way to harness those ideas in order to be successful.

It really doesn't matter what kind of system you put in place. You just need to have one. Of course, your system does need to have some basic components, starting with an organized way to collect, store, and categorize your ideas. Think of it as a swipe file, a place you can turn when you need fresh content. If you take care of your swipe file by constantly feeding it and pruning it, you will never run out of ideas for fresh content.

When you need to refill the swipe file, put your journalist's hat on to come up with ideas for interesting stories and content your audience craves. While you're thinking about potential topics and doing your research, look at the world around you through a journalist's eyes. Sometimes the best content is right under our nose; we just haven't noticed it yet.

People love good stories and useful content. Give them what they want, and they will beat a path to your door.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The press release, evolved

When you think of ways to spread newsy tidbits about your business, it's unlikely that press releases are the first thing you think of. With the recent overtake of social media, they are often viewed as a thing of the past. However, press releases are just as important as ever and can be easily modified to fit the new age marketing world.

For example, social media news releases are designed to meet the ways people now connect, via blogging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social channels. Likewise, information releases are often published online through sites such as Business Wire. By continuing to post press releases and other newsworthy information, you not only keep your communications up-to-date, but you also beef up your search engine results.

Even though social media avenues have become the more popular communication method when it comes to information updates, traditional press releases continue to maintain higher credibility in situations such as crisis communication, announcing new products and services, mergers, etc. So even though its role has evolved and will continue to change, the press release will remain an important tool in business communications for years to come.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

USPS Offers Discounts for Direct Mail with QR Codes

The United States Postal Service has announced a discount program that provides an amazing opportunity for businesses that want to increase their sales through direct mail marketing.

For the months of July and August 2011, any business that uses QR codes on their direct mail piece will receive a 3% upfront discount off the postage amount. It is not often that the Postal Service has a sale, so this is a great time to take advantage of a discount and to also get started with your QR code campaign.

Please review the FAQ below from the USPS for some general information, and please don't hesitate to contact us for help with your next direct mail marketing campaign.

2011 Mobile Barcode Promotion -- FAQs


1. What is the 2011 Mobile Barcode Promotion?
The Mobile Barcode Promotion is intended to build awareness of mobile technology and demonstrate to mailers how mobile barcodes can increase the value of mail. The promotion provides business mailers with an upfront 3% discount on standard and first-class letters, flats, and cards that include a two-dimensional (2-D) barcode that can be read or scanned by a smartphone.

2. Why is the Postal Service offering this promotion?
The Mobile Barcode Promotion was designed to increase the value of direct mail and build awareness around integrating mobile technology into direct mail communications.

3. When does the Mobile Barcode Promotion begin?
The promotion runs from July 1 through August 31, 2011.

4. Who is eligible to participate?
All companies, including Mail Service Providers (MSPs), who mail using a permit imprint and submit their mailing documentation electronically are eligible to participate.

5. Do I have to apply/register to participate in the Mobile Barcode Promotion?
The Mobile Barcode Promotion does not require an application or advance registration.

6. How do I participate?
Submit qualifying standard or first-class letters, flats, or cards electronically using a permit imprint payment method to the Business Mail Entry Unit (BMEU) for acceptance within the specified promotion period, and meet all other promotion requirements.

7. What are the promotion requirements?
All of the following must apply:
  • All mailpieces in the mailing postage statement must include a mobile 2-D barcode on the outside of the mailpiece or within the mailpiece.

  • The mobile barcode must be used for marketing purposes and must be relevant to the contents of the mailpiece. The objective of the 2-D mobile barcode on eligible mail pieces must be to initiate interaction with consumers via mobile smartphones to market, promote, or educate.

  • Mail must be tendered for acceptance during the promotion period, July 1, 2011, through August 31, 2011.
More information is available online at the Postal Service's Mobile Barcode Promotion website.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Are you making your customers feel left out?

Have you ever gotten excited over an advertised offer only to read the fine print that says something like "offer available to new customers only"? Many businesses focus their marketing efforts on generating new customers while forgetting the golden opportunity that repeat customers provide.

Nearly every sale has a repeat potential. It is not only easier, but also more cost-effective to market to an audience who has already done business with you (hopefully their experience was positive). Not only are they familiar with you and your business, but they have already shown interest in your products or services.

In addition to repeat product sales, up-selling is a great way to target current customers. For example, "if you like XX product, you will love QQ." Customers who are educated about their purchases feel more confident making informed decisions and will view you as the expert. Avoid being pushy, or you will drive away your current customer base. Instead, offer a lucrative discount that will do the selling for you.

In addition to increasing sales volume, current customers are also a potential goldmine when it comes to referrals. Customer referrals will not only help you build stronger relationships with your current customers, but will also help you expand your customer base through increased awareness to prime prospects.

There are many ways to generate customer referrals, but one of the easiest occurs throughout day-to-day conversations. If a loyal customer compliments your business in casual conversation, ask if you can use that statement as a customer quote.

Repeat customers offer stability and predictability -- a must for any successful business. After all, happy customers can sell your business just as well as your sales team.