According to the US-based Direct Marketing Association the definition of direct marketing is: "an interactive system of marketing which uses one or more advertising media to effect a measurable response and/or transaction at any location."
The most important fact to bear in mind about direct marketing - regardless of the product(s) - is that the concept is centred around communication.
In a store-front situation, presentation is of paramount importance. It's hardly likely that a dowdy and dismal store will attract new customers. The same can also be said of the communication in a direct marketing situation. When you send a letter, brochure or catalogue to new or potential customers, you're sending them an image of your "store". How well you present it determines how the customer perceives both you and your operation.
In many cases the support material for a direct marketing campaign is readily available to all resellers at no cost at all. In Australian Reseller News's previous incarnation, Reseller magazine, we often used to discuss the benefits of the mass of glossy brochures available from vendors and distributors. In the majority of cases, vendors expressed to us their frustration about the lack of brochure utilisation on the part of resellers.
Take advantage of what the vendors have to offer. Let them pay for as much of your direct marketing material as possible. After all, it's their products you're promoting.
Needless to say, you're going to need more than just a few brochures to generate sales and image awareness in a direct marketing campaign. You'll also need to present yourself. A letter of introduction or even a newsletter is often an essential component.
If you elect to go with a newsletter, it may pay dividends to seek the services of professional direct marketing consultants. Within this article is a short interview with Paul Williams, an experienced and successful writer involved in direct marketing.
Out among the masses
Once you have the material for a direct marketing campaign put together, the next big decision is who to send it to. Many companies use a shotgun effect and, while they may well receive a good level of response, this approach is also just as likely to disenchant many people who have no interest whatsoever in the products being offered.
It's often better to put as much effort into researching your potential customer base as in preparing the material. The people you alienate today may well be those to whom you wish to sell tomorrow. According to Steve Butcher, general manager of Dependable Database Data, marketing to people who are specifically interested in your products has become a key strategy in many a marketing plan. "The shotgun approach of the early eighties is now being replaced with budget conscious strategically placed marketing of specific products to specific niches," he said.
Butcher's company produces a product called Australia on Disc - a CD-ROM which is claimed to contain every business and residential telephone directory in Australia. "Using products such as Australia on Disc allows direct marketeers to operate intelligently without the use of a separate database program," said Butcher.
"Any list which can be obtained manually from the Yellow Pages telephone directories can be automatically generated by these products. For example, you could create a list of every dentist in Australia which can then be exported to either a Microsoft Word mailmerge file or a Tracker file."
Even when you've determined the organisations you intend mailing out to, you're still going to have to put some effort into ensuring your brochure ends up with the right person. Having a brochure designed for programming leaders end up in the hands of the pay office manager is going to result in little more than wasted time, effort and money.
Provide an incentive
Once the potential customer has received the initial material, it's also important that there is some incentive for them to respond. Many a lead has been generated and a sale made by following the adage "make them an offer they can't refuse". Offers to increase lead generation include: demonstration disks sample products following the old shareware "restricted" or "limited" use principles on-site demonstrations further information in the form of magazine extracts and white papers.
Again, many of these items are readily and freely available from vendors or their representatives. If you find they're unwilling to assist you in your efforts to sell their products, dump them! There are always other vendors who are more than happy to assist their channel members in an effort to promote product awareness and penetration within the market.
Ask for feedback
In carrying out a successful direct marketing campaign, you can rarely have too much information about your customer base. It shouldn't come as any surprise that the best source from which to obtain this information is the customers themselves.
Taking the time to prepare a quick survey or questionnaire which recipients are asked to complete and return can reap major dividends. Receiving information on a customer's IT purchasing habits, software usage, IT budgets and current equipment can better prepare you for tailoring your next mail-out.
You may also want to consider simply asking for customers' opinions on various products, technologies or the industry in general. People like to be asked for their opinion and these opinions could easily provide you with the insights you need to make that one extra sale.
The Internet as a medium
For years, much discussion has been under way about the possibilities of deriving revenues from the Internet. While companies are making handsome profits from providing service connections, consultancy and products, others are taking a more subtle approach - using the Internet as a tool to leverage sales.
Already, many IT resellers have realised the ease of utilising Usenet newsgroups, IRC chat channels, Web home pages, and e-mail as direct marketing tools. Many of the principles in traditional direct mail marketing are equally applicable to marketing on the Internet.
It should be said though, that while the Internet has many features which make it an ideal marketing media, in most cases we're heading back to the old days of the shotgun approach. Don't expect 100 responses for your product from 1,000 Web site hits, when over three-quarters of those hits are from overseas.
Profit by partnering
Direct marketing has the obvious potential of being a high cost marketing exercise. As in any other business venture, it is important to explore avenues which result in cost reduction and increased sales. By partnering with other companies which provide complementary services or products to your own, you can address both issues at once.
Let's assume that your company has a software package designed specifically for dental practitioners. In order to present customers with a total solution, it makes sense to partner with a company which sells hardware suitable to run that software. Together, both companies exploit a lucrative market with a combination of expertise and an easing of the marketing expenditure.
Which company's name goes first on the mail-out? That's something you'll have to work out for yourselves.
The Newsletter Advantage
One of the most successful direct marketing newsletters in Australia is prepared monthly by creative consultant Paul Williams. ARN asked Williams about some of the important principles involved in preparing a successful newsletter for direct marketing.
ARN: What's a good starting point when beginning a direct marketing newsletter?
Paul Williams (PW): Every edition of the newsletter needs to have a theme. Something that drives people from the front page through to the back. You need to grab people at the front page.
Also, the way the product is constructed into an offer is the most important thing in direct marketing. The writing comes second to the offers. In order to put together an offer, we need to know what's happening in the market and make sure the prices are competitive with what's out there. Then comes the selling and the spin after that. What you try to do is seek out something unique and interesting about each product.
In direct marketing we say the offer is up to 90 per cent and the creative and execution is maybe 10 per cent. Bad creative can kill an offer because you can make it unclear or confuse the issue.
ARN: How important is an initial understanding of the customer base?
PW: Extremely important. You need to understand what the customer actually wants if you intend to sell any product through direct marketing.
ARN: Are Australians becoming more accustomed to direct marketing?
PW: I think so. For certain products, the appeal of jumping into the car and going down to the shops is becoming less attractive. It's often much more convenient to have things delivered directly to your front door.
Nine-step master plan for increasing responseExcerpted with permission from Discover the 'Passwords' for Better Direct Mail, by Shell R. Alpert"If you put the creative cart before the strategic horse, your mailing will lack clarity, direction, and persuasive force," says Shell Alpert, president of Alpert O'Neil Tigre & Co, a US-based direct response marketing consultancy. Alpert has developed nine "passwords" that literally spell out the fundamentals of a workable direct mail master plan.
Propose - Tell your prospect, as quickly, interestingly and promisingly as possible, exactly what you want him or her to do - how, why and when. Imagine you're a door-to-door salesperson with about 10 seconds to capture your prospect's attention and another 20 seconds to ignite his or her interest.
Assert - Set forth in a compelling and cogent manner your major "sales claims" - the benefits and advantages the prospect will gain from buying your product or service. Assertions should be artfully arranged throughout the mailing.
Specify - Describe your assertions in more detail to make them more credible. You must present plausible reasons why your sales claims are true, illustrate the advantages of your assertions, and demonstrate ancillary rewards to which the reader can relate.
Support - Endorsements, testimonials, quotes from magazine articles, surveys and case studies can all lend factual support to your claims. Detailed competitive comparisons can also help document the superiority of your product or service.
Weight - To weight is to quantify - usually in terms of savings, profit, appreciation, conservation, time, labour or reduced risk - the real worth of what you're selling. Sometimes you have to "reach out" beyond normal frames of reference to establish comparatives. For example, a cable TV marketeer might compare the monthly cost of HBO to the cost of movies and other forms of entertainment.
Overcome - Confront head-on the objections your prospects probably harbour. For example, explain why you're able to make such a great offer. Q&A sections are useful for this, as are small, colourful package inserts.
Reiterate - Recap important decision-making information in or near the reply card or coupon. Time-squeezed prospects often don't read the entire package or read in any logical sequence, so it's important to reiterate key benefits more than once.
Dilemmatise - Confront the prospect with a choice, or even a problem, that tends to induce additional consideration - which in turn has the effect of provoking action. In its simplest form, this might be a request that the prospect either accept or refuse the offer you're making - perhaps a "reserved-in-your-name" offer with a yes-or-no RSVP. Another way to dilemmatise your package is to turn your offer into a gift certificate or a bank cheque. After all, who likes to throw money away?
Solicit - Soliciting means not only asking for the order or enquiry, but also providing your prospect with an attractive, convenient, well-organised means of doing so. The order card is the one piece everyone must read, which is reason enough to make it as brief, smooth, reassuring, and easy-to-return as possible.