Have You Forgotten About Direct Mail?

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Remember when fax technology was supposed to kill mail? It didn't. And remember all the promises of e-mail and the Web making mail obsolete? Didn't happen. If I had a dollar for every time some technoweeny wrote a breathless obituary for direct mail, I could retire quite comfortably. Actually, I will retire quite comfortably one of these days in large part because direct mail continues to be such a powerful medium.


Don't misunderstand. I'm an advocate of all forms of marketing. Direct Creative does successful marketing with a variety of media. But despite the fancy new options, direct mail remains the heart and soul of direct marketing. That's because it's the only medium that lets you put an offer into the hands of virtually anyone, anywhere. So if you've been on the cutting edge for too long, let me remind you about what you can do with our old friend direct mail.


· Send direct mail offers. You can sell just about anything with direct mail. However, products and services that are lower in cost are ideal candidates for direct sales. Products that your customers are familiar with through other channels also can be offered in this way as a convenience or at a savings. Direct mail also is a good medium for upgrading and cross-selling established customers.


· Generate inquiries and leads. If your products are more expensive or too complex to explain and sell directly, try multiple steps. First, offer free information such as a catalog or demo, then follow up on the inquiries with one or more special offers to close the deal. If you have a sales staff you can do the same thing, but you'll fulfill requests and give leads to your sales department to close sales. An inquiry or lead mailing can be as simple as a letter and a reply card.


· Announce new products and services. You don't have to wait for your new catalog to come out. Just send a flier or product sheet with an overview of your new wares. Or you can post the information on your Web site and send an announcement with an address for that specific page.


· Promote a conference or Webinar. Both are ideal for starting and maintaining customer relationships. Webinars are popular because you can deliver information to a wider audience who may not have travel time available. E-mail may seem the logical choice to announce such an event, but direct mail lists generally are more complete and accurate.


· Offer demos and samples. No matter what you say about your products and services, nothing is more convincing than letting prospects "see it" or "try it" for themselves. Demonstrations, presentations, samples and scaled-down versions of products are perfect ways to overcome objections, erase doubts and let people become familiar and comfortable with what you offer.


· Solicit newsletter subscribers. It's hard to beat a newsletter for sharing information, building relationships and staying in touch. Once your newsletter is operating, simply mail an offer for a free subscription. This works whether your newsletter is printed, e-mailed or posted on a Web site.


· Conduct surveys and research. Mail is a simple way to collect data on trends, opinions, methods, benchmarks and other issues. You can mail the survey directly or send a short invitation to participate in an online survey for a small reward. Again, e-mail can be used for this, though your coverage may not be as broad as with direct mail.


· Distribute catalogs and sales literature. Depending on your market size, you may want to send primary literature to everyone even if they don't formally request it. This is especially useful if you have a stable product line or your sales cycle is especially long.


· Increase trade show booth traffic. Invitations and prizes are popular but generally overused. A more practical approach is to schedule personal demonstrations or offer information that can be acquired only by redeeming a voucher mailed to your target. Just remember that attendees get large volumes of mail prior to most trade shows, so your announcement or offer must stand out.


· Educate customers and prospects. With new or complicated products, technologies and issues, it helps to provide information that increases understanding and user skill. A series of self-mailers focusing on specific product features, postcards sharing tips and hints, and invitations for online tutorials are just a few of the possibilities.


Yup. Good old-fashioned direct mail. Using it won't make you hip or trendy. In fact, from a technological perspective, it can be downright boring. But it still works. And that's all that really counts.


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