The Time is Ripe for an Upgrade Offer

Tax day is approaching and as people sit down in front of their computers to install the latest income tax software, they come to a startling revelation. Their high performance systems — which they invested more than $3,000 over five years ago — can't even run a simple application like solitaire, let alone current software programs.

Their processors are so slow it feels like they are going in reverse, the machines have less memory than a toaster, their current operating systems are more like locked doors than opened Windows and their CD-ROMs are more like a turntable scratching its way over an old 45. These unfortunate people can either put their old machines on the antique table at the next family yard sale or continue to use the same machines and fall further back in the technology marathon.

There is an affordable solution: upgrade. They can spend around $300 and give their old computers new life. Everything from the cases and the processors to the video and sound cards can be upgraded to new. A few simple changes can make a tremendous difference. The challenge is letting people know this service is available and exactly what an upgrade can give them.

The fastest, most affordable solution that comes to mind is the Internet. Set up a Web page with an interactive menu of upgrade options, build a shopping basket and an online ordering system and watch the orders come in.

Not so fast, remember most people with a 486 processor running at 60MHz and eight MB of RAM can barely get up the on-ramp to the information superhighway, let alone pull into the fast lane of the express way and find a parking spot at the online mall.

This is a grass-roots advertising campaign, and the direct marketing has to be done a more traditional way. Direct mail postcards are an affordable, efficient marketing tool. If it is a clean and powerful design with the right message, dividends can be collected quickly.

For this particular promotion, a series of three postcards will be sufficient advertising. Keep in mind that it is not necessary to spend a fortune chasing down new customers for this service because you should have a complete database that shows the dates of their systems purchases and what they bought.

It's been about six years since Pentium chips truly hit the market, and they ran at speeds of about 60MHz. Today Pentium II machines run at 400Mhz — clearly a substantial jump. Anyone who has purchased a system more than 18 months ago could be eligible for an upgrade although he would probably have a Pentium 166 or better and will not see a tremendous return on the upgrade. This promotion is best geared toward people who made a purchase three to six years ago.

Keep in mind that a majority of end users only know the basics when it comes to their computer systems. Some may know the specifications inside and a few people might know the functions of the components. Most people still believe the common misconception that the hard drive represents the entire computer when it actually is only one item working together with other components to make up the entire system. Therefore most people only know what they see — a slow machine.

This begs the question: How do you effectively use your direct mail campaign and, at the same time, educate your consumers? The purpose of the initial direct mail piece should be to reintroduce your company to the customer. A few months or years may have past since the last time that customer shopped with you, so take this chance to get your name into the head of the customer. This mailer acts as a solution for reminding people, even after some time has passed since the last purchase, that your business still cares for them.

The first direct mail piece should also create an awareness of the upgrade service. Make the customer aware that you can fulfill their need for a better machine, but don't get too technical. Simply tell them what is being offered and how much it will cost. Remind them of the service you offered in the past and that you are still committed to the same guarantee of satisfaction. It is important to make a short note on the postcard to encourage the customer to call or e-mail if they have any questions concerning the service. For a majority, a reminder generates a feeling of openness to continue the relationship.

The second mailer should be done within a month of the first. This one will be more detailed than the previous postcard. This is the time to get into the more technical aspect of the promotion. It will serve as a lesson in upgrades and parts for most people and will catch the attention of some nonbelievers who didn't respond to the first advertisement. Let the customer know exactly what is being offered and what the specific upgrade will do. Tell them the processor will be upgraded to a 300MHz processor and this will help the computer run faster and improve the overall performance. The memory will be upgraded to 32MB of RAM and this will help run memory intensive applications like spreadsheets and graphic design related programs.

Let the customer know upgrading a computer's processor and memory is an important starting point, but a faster CD-ROM will make their lives easier if a large number of CD-ROMs need to be accessed. A 56K modem with V.90 technology can offer faster Internet access and a new video card will generate faster, smoother graphics. As an added incentive, offer a coupon on data transfer peripherals. A discount on a Zip Drive or the Zip Media is a great way to add on to the sale and it serves as an important reminder to back up everything before the upgrade.

Your sales staff should follow up the two mailers with a phone call to help personalize the service. This is an excellent opportunity for the customer to ask any questions regarding the upgrade service and learn more about the technical aspects of their systems. Your salespeople should keep notes on what kind of feedback they receive from the phone calls. This will serve as valuable information when designing the third

direct mail piece.

The last mailer in the series should be a follow-up piece that acts as a reminder of the key points of the service. Briefly explain the benefits of the program and encourage people to consider an upgrade as a valuable option. By this point your sales staff should be through their follow-up calls and should have evaluated the responses from the customers. It is important to keep track of who came in and took advantage of the program. You don't want to waste money by sending out duplicate ads. The third mailer can be used to promote additional upgrades for accessory items. Offer discounts on upgrades for a 17-inch or 19-inch monitor or upgrade to a photo quality ink jet printer with 1440 dpi. By this point, your advertising campaign has been running for about 10 weeks and you should have saturated your installed customer base with all the upgrade options.

In the end, this program should result in repeat customers satisfied with investing a minimal amount of their money for a faster computer. An efficient and effective direct mail campaign that educates consumers and generates additional sales is a winning combination. In a constantly changing market where technology grows by leaps and bounds, customers who upgrade and recycle their old machines today will be in good shape for at least two more years. Keep accurate customer records and you can start all over again at the turn of the century.

Michael Liebmann is marketing manager at PC Warehouse Inc., Rochelle Park, NJ, a computer reseller with 87 stores nationwide. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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