Mailing services enable cost- effective direct marketing

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Too often, small businesses don't realize how easy it is to market themselves, according to Trynka Shineman, senior vice president of North American marketing at VistaPrint, a graphic design service and provider of custom printed products to small businesses and consumers.

There are a number of obstacles that entrepreneurs are afraid to get past when it comes to a direct marketing campaign.

"In reality, nothing could be easier and, when done right, cost-effective," Shineman says. "But with everything from expenses to a spot on creative to a decisive target list - and finally addressing, stamping and sending the specific pieces - it can sometimes be a discouraging thought for small businesses to complete a direct marketing campaign."

The truth is, those worries are no longer the problem they once were, as there are many services and companies who focus on small businesses that can help through the entire process, including designing your direct mail postcard, refining your list and mailing it out to the targets you have chosen.

DM News' associate editor Giselle Abramovich conducted a Q&A over e-mail with Shineman, who stressed that while these services are now available, there are still a number of factors marketers should keep in mind, a few key points that can elevate your campaign from average to extraordinary.

How does one go about building the correct list?

Trynka Shineman: This is where some people tend to panic, but if you take your time and put some thought into what your target market truly is, you'll be successful. There is also this to consider: Sometimes a failed direct marketing campaign can also be turned around and deemed a success. By finding out what works and what doesn't, you can better streamline your efforts to ensure that you're only getting the potential customers you really feel will give you the best chance to thrive.

Targeting the right list means understanding the demographic that you think you might have the best chance of turning into a customer. If you're operating a flower shop, it's best to target a female demographic above the age of 30. If it's a landscaping business, you'll want to target homeowners within a certain area close to your home base at first. Once you determine which audiences are most successful, you can continue to market to them to stay top of mind while expanding and testing into other areas and demographics.

You can compile a list by keeping track of your customers and asking them for referrals, or you can go through a third-party company that lets you purchase a list of prospects that meet your target demographic. Many companies that have mailing services allow you to upload or rent your own list and then send out your creative all from one place.

How does one produce effective creative?

Shineman: Here is probably the single most important aspect of the direct mail campaign, and unfortunately it's sometimes overlooked. The standout nature of your postcard or brochure can't be understated. Not only does it have to stand out and be bold in terms of color, text and appeal, but it also has to have a clear call to action and an offer that the potential customer will act upon.

If you don't take the time to make sure that your offer is an effective one, and that it is conveyed in a clear, bold manner, then sending out a direct mail campaign will turn out to be nothing short of a waste of time and money. Your call to action should tie directly to the product or service your company offers - for example, a free estimate for a company providing a service.

It's also important that the creative is unique and clearly represents your company's brand. Uploading graphics, and specifically your company logo, also adds a nice touch, and will hopefully start to generate brand awareness for your small business. The design and overall look and feel are only bound by your own imagination.

So, once you've got a good list and creative, what's next?

Shineman: Testing is every direct marketer's best weapon. It lets you determine what works and what doesn't, so you can learn for the next campaign. In fact, every direct marketer should learn from every single mailing so each consecutive one becomes more successful.

Testing doesn't have to be difficult or extensive. Start by testing different audiences to see who the right target is for your product or service. Once you have a good list to work with, test an offer to see if a discount works better than a free product offer. Then test the format of the piece to determine. For example, do envelopes work better than self-mailers?

Once you've tested for the most effective, most reliable kinds of marketing programs, no matter how small, you can continue to roll them out time after time. This helps you stay top of mind and continue to generate business.

Most consumers need to hear from a company multiple times before they buy. Build a contact plan to make sure that customers see your message multiple times. Be sure to focus on the time of year when they are most likely to use your products. This strategy will make it more likely that you are in their consideration set when they are ready to make a purchase.

Remember that you don't need a lot of time or a big budget to do direct marketing campaigns.

And, if you combine all these elements, you'll have a direct marketing machine that can turn on a dime. You can quickly and easily produce, test and deploy cost-effective direct marketing campaigns that make a difference to the bottom line.

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